Blog  ::  Head Fake!
Killdeer, photo E. Zawadzka

Killdeer, photo E. Zawadzka

Head Fake!

By Ela Zawadzka / July 12, 2013 at 12:15 PM

Last week I took my son to watch big windmills in Stead. He’s 3. Things that spin – he loves them! Later we decided to take a walk near Swan Lake. As we walked, we heard this funny, squeaky noise “kill deer… kill deer”. I looked around and I saw this pretty little injured bird. She had her wing spread, like it was broken and she was walking and dragging her leg. We took another step and boy did she (he?) run fast - I guess we were just too close to her nest! Bob Goodman, a professional photographer and a member of the Lahontan Chapter of the National Audubon Society said, I would make a great coyote; many young ones fall for a “broken wing act” just like me!

The broken wing act, also known as distraction display, is an anti-predator behavior used to attract the attention of an enemy away from the nest or young that are being protected. These displays are particularly well known in birds but noted also in fish. Killdeer live in grassland habitats such as fields, meadows, and pastures. We looked around briefly for the nest, but it was well-hidden. Killdeer nests are merely a shallow depression or bowl in the ground, fringed by some stones and blades of grass. The spots of the eggs disguise them as stones, and the simple structure of the nest resembles its surroundings, but still sometimes a predator or un-careful bird/windmill watchers like us come a bit to close and then the show begins.

With that in mind start your own birding adventure. Any hike can be a great birding experience, but before setting out, make sure you have the proper summer birding gear, including good sunscreen. While there is no wrong way to go birding, experienced birders plan their outing carefully, and if you are prepared (Bob says - have your binoculars ready and keep noise down) - you can see more birds, find new lifers, learn more from the birds you see to enjoy this hobby more with every step.

If you’d like to see killdeer in action, you can often find them in the flat areas around Swan Lake and also at Rancho San Rafael Park. They nest on the ground, which is one of the reasons that dogs should remain on leash when they are at Swan Lake. The killdeer is very good at bringing attention to itself to lure potential predators away from its nest, so if you see an overly dramatic little brown and white bird, watch your step!


References: Bob Goodman, and
Armstrong, Edward A. (2008). "Diversionary Display". Ibis 91 (2): 179.
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