Killdeers help keep ‘bugs’ in check

One of the birds which comes back early–as early as the robins–is the Killdeer.
Most people are familiar with this bird as it breeds all across Canada from the Yukon to the Maritimes. Here in the northwest, it breeds as far north as Hudson Bay.
You can often hear them quite a while before they come into view. The Killdeer is a noisy bird.
This also is quite a good-looking bird. It is about the size of a robin but its fairly long legs make it look taller and bigger. And it has a couple of prominent colour features which make it easy to identify.
For one, it has a chestnut-coloured lower back, tail, and rump. It also has some black and white on its head. Otherwise, the rest of its head, and its back, are brown.
Quite a classy bird!
Almost everyone knows what it sounds like–“kill-dee, kill-dee, kill-dee” over and over again. That’s where its name comes from. But it has other sounds, too.
One sound, a long trill “t–r-r-r-r-r-rrrr,” is used in two sets of circumstances. When the birds are courting in the spring, this is the song. It is also used, more loudly, when some animal or person is getting too close to the next.
The Killdeer is well-known for another bit of its behaviour–the “broken-wing” one.
This bird makes its nest on the ground, and it is not much of one. Usually, a sort of scooped out depression will do–in the gravel, on the golf course, in your garden, on a flat roof, even in the gravel on the railway tracks.
It is usually in a clear space so the bird can see well in all directions. If a fox, dog, or man approaches, the Killdeer will leave the nest. But it always runs a bit before flying or calling.
When the “enemy” gets too close, then our actor goes into his performance. He (or she) will flop along the ground, dragging a wing, and making the most pitiful noises.
After the intruder follows this half-dead bird away from the nest, then the Killdeer suddenly has a marvellous recovery and flies away.
This bird also has some other unusual performances during the spring courtship. Sometimes, the male will go up several hundred yards in the air and hover on almost motionless wings, all the while calling out very loudly.
Sometimes both male and female will spiral upwards until they are out of sight. They also sometimes dive down almost to the earth. As the famous Audubon once said, “They perform all sorts of evolutions on the wing.”
The Killdeer, Charandrius vociferus, is a plover, and has all sorts of close relatives. Most of these birds prefer the shores of the sea, or of large lakes. But the Killdeer prefers to nest inland, and not necessarily near the water.
Before protection came into being for the birds, millions of shore birds were shot for sale on the open market. Actually, before 1900, Killdeers almost completely disappeared from the eastern part of North America.
Now it has again become quite common.
Almost 100 percent beneficial, about 98 percent of the Killdeer’s diet consists of insect pests–beetle, caterpillars, grasshoppers, and so on.
It is a good thing that those numbers are up again. We need all the help we can get against the “bugs.”

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