When I was growing up, the first thing I learned about Killdeer was that they were one of the most flamboyant actors in the bird world.
Distraction Display of Killdeer
Killdeer fake injury to protect their ground nests, with actions so elaborate and persistent as to be extreme. I would often see them up close, struggling with a wing dragging pitifully low, calling loudly with a distress call as they attempt to lead you away. They stop, flop on the dirt, and splay conspicuous tawny orange rump feathers as if they were broken, all the while keeping a red circled eye on you. These distraction displays are so common that predators learn to ignore them. When I see this activity, I get out my camera and start looking in the brush for Killdeer babies.
Killdeer are part of the Plover family, but unlike most of their kin, they live and nest away from the shoreline. They can be found on the back roads, parking lots, golf courses, and fields running on the ground foraging for insects. Like most plovers, Killdeer have 3 toes with webbing in between…good for running on land, but not perching on branches.
Plenty of Time for Camera Setup
I found this family of Killdeer on a quiet backroad in the Allegan Forest. Before they started with their ostentatious behavior, they weren’t noticeable, blending in well with the gravel on the roadside. Apparently I wandered too close with my camera, and the antics began in earnest. Easy pickins’ for a bird photographer. The adults flew in close and began their displays, giving me plenty of time to set up the tripod and camera.
Baby Killdeer are “precocial”, meaning they are ready to run after hatching (like chickens and ducks). They are not your typical blind, helpless baby bird.
Apparently I wandered too close to their young chick because these Killdeer parents became frantic and initiated Plan B: dive-bombing my head. Having no wish to be pecked on the head, I retreated to the safety of my car.