For the Birds: National Left-Handers Day Aug 13 - Killdeer left-winged?

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Left-winged Killdeer
Photo by Elaine Chuang

By Christine Southwick

Name a bird that just sticks out one wing at a time to be noticed.

Killdeer are known for their broken-wing diversionary tactics. The parent will protect its eggs or its flightless young by walking / scurrying away from the nest with one of its wings extended, while quivering.

Who’s to say whether or not 10% of the Killdeer favor using their left wing over using their right wing? (I don’t know that is so, just sayin’.)

Killdeer Mom and chick
Photo by John Tubbs

Killdeer are a shorebird that can also be found on lawns, gravelly driveways, parking lots, edges of roads, and even golf courses, searching for grasshoppers, beetles, even small frogs and crawfish, in addition to their preferred snails, and aquatic insect larvae.

They usually run in bursts, then stop to search for its next meal. A Killdeer is most easily identified by its round head, shorebird-length legs, double chest bands, and by their loud distinct call.

Killdeer adult
Photo by Glenn Hansen

Calling early and into the night, sometimes even while flying, Killdeer were named after their unmistakable “Killdeerrrrrr” calls. Their coloring allows them to blend in with sand, rocks, and shore logs, but not green lawns. Killdeer are usually heard before being seen, and may well be overlooked if they stay silent.

Killdeer will nest in almost any open, fairly flat area with vegetation one inch or lower, and that has sufficient water and food nearby. The male make several scrapes on the ground, and the female selects the one she’ll use for her four to six eggs. The other nest scrapes may help confuse predators, and from time to time the parents add twigs and rocks to the scrapes.

Killdeer newborn
Photo by Keith Brady

Killdeer babies are precocial — meaning that they are born with full feathers, and as soon as the feathers dry from hatching, the babies start running around. The babies are tiny, only have one neck ring and hide under their parents for protection. These little fluff-balls-with-legs can’t fly for three to four weeks. The watchful parents protect their young by loudly faking a broken wing and leading any predator astray. No matter which wing they use, this trick usually works.

The best place in Shoreline to find Killdeer is Richmond Beach Saltwater Park, or any low-growing open area, especially if it has gravel and water nearby. So watch your step, and keep listening for Killdeer-rrrrrr



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