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George the killdeer and his family
George the killdeer!
George is a skinny, middle-aged killdeer living at Lake Murray in San Diego. He is currently mated to Martha and they're in their fourth breeding season together. George and Martha have successfully raised 10 chicks, so far. Some of George's chicks have gone on to raise some babies of their own. Currently, George is sharing a territory with his son, Killer, a chick that was hatched in 2010. Killer has at least two chicks of his own, possibly, three and in his second year, he raised at least two chicks as well. Occasionally, George's first son, George Jr. visits the area, but he always picks a fight with his dad.
Lately, George has been staying away from the lake more and more, but still visits with his grown chicks. Late in 2013, it appeared that George and Martha have broken up and George may have a new mate whom I'm going to probably call "Gracie".
All photos in this lens were created by me unless otherwise noted.
George's family members
Here are the current members of George's family as of April 2013:
Martha (mate to George)
Killer AKA Kip (son)
Dee (mate to Killer)
Firecracker (daughter, mate to Surprise)
Roofie AKA Ruthie (mate to Tiny)
Squeak (daughter, mate to Pollux)
Un-named female (daughter)
Un-named male (son)
Killer Jr. (grandson, mate to Miracle)
George III (grandson, son of Killer)
Georgina (grand-daughter, daughter of Junior, mate to Spike)
Peanut (grand-daughter, daughter of Squeak and Pollux)
Smudge (grand-daughter, daughter of Squeak and Pollux)
Un-named male grandson (son of Squeak and Pollux)
3 un-named grand-chicks (From Junior)
Killer III (grandson, son of Killer)
Un-named grand-daughter (daughter of Killer)
Little Miracle (great-grand-daughter, daughter of Killer Jr. who is the son of Killer)
George IV (grandson, son of Junior.)
Skinny Girl (daughter)
George and his family's daily activities - Always busy
George's family has an active social life. However, right now George is without his Martha, but is still with his current chicks hatched during the summer of 2012. He has at least one new son and one daughter. He spends a lot of time keeping an eye on the other males who are interesting in courting his daughter.
The rest of the day is spent either eating, sleeping, or watching for predators. Killdeer don't have a regular sleep schedule, they just sleep when they're tired.
This photo is of George's 2010 chick, Firecracker, with her mother, Martha.
George's Family PhotosClick thumbnail to view full-size
George and his family welcomed new chicks to the family in 2012. Here is a photo of Smudge, one of George's grand-daughters. Smudge grew up and now has chicks of her own. But, she has not brought them out to show everyone, yet. Hopefully, we will see her babies, soon. Her mom and dad are also working on nesting again.
Little Miracle was also another chick raised in 2012, but hasn't found a mate yet. It's a little too late for her establish a relationship and breed for this year. Better luck next year for Little Miracle.
During 2013, the killdeer decided to nest in less accessible area. Some killdeer, such as Squeak and Pollux, had at least two chicks and George swung by the lake with at least three of his own chicks. It also looks like Killer had at least one chick.
In 2014, none of the killdeer bred at the lake, however, George and Martha were seen in the fall. Killer and Junior were also spotted in the area. It's possible that the drought is having an effect on the killdeers this year.
George and his family's enemies
Killdeer are very vulnerable birds and it seems that everyone wants to eat them either as an adult or a baby. Right now, George's biggest problem is a large female Cooper's hawk, called Big Mama and her mate. There are actually several Cooper's hawks at Lake Murray, but this one constantly harasses and attacks George's family. George lives his life day by day because chances are good that he can be attacked at any time.
Usually, the killdeer are too fast, nervous, and maneuverable for the Cooper's hawk, but sometimes they make mistakes and almost get caught. One time, Dee and Killer were out in the feeding area and the hawk flew over. Killer stayed quiet and still, but Dee jumped out and almost got caught. I think the hawk might have nicked her as she seemed to have a sore on her back for a long time. Another time, one of Killer's sons, Killer Jr. was hanging out with some other killdeer across the lake. He did special killdeer sounds to call the other killdeer over to him and one of the hawks zeroed in on his call and chased him around for several minutes, almost catching him.
Peregrine falcons also visit the area and they terrify all the killdeer. When the falcons visit the lake, most of the killdeer hide. Other birds like sharp-shinned hawks, kestrels, and northern harriers frequently frighten George and his family. George also has to keep his family safe from feral cats that roam his territory, stray dogs, coyotes, skunks, and raccoons. It's a 24 hour a day job.
**Update** The large Cooper's hawk that plagued the family passed away early in 2013. However, she raised many babies in her life. Currently, her yearling daughter is hunting in the area, though not exactly in the same manner as her mother. This new female has shown herself to be an extremely capable hunter even taking down very large prey.
Many creatures at the lake appreciate the killdeer's alertness . . .
George and his family's friends
Many creatures at the lake appreciate the killdeer's alertness and often rely on them to warn them of predators such as hawks and owls. When there's chicks, some of their "friends", such as ducks, can be dangerous and accidentally step on or eat their chicks. But, for adult killdeer, ducks are their friends. Also, they tended to tolerate the spotted sandpiper, Bob, who shared their territory. Other shorebirds seek out George's family when they visit, including dowitchers, greater yellowlegs, and willets.
In 2012, Bob and her daughter both disappeared from the lake. A few spotted sandpipers were seen in early 2013, but they were not Bob.
George's family's friend of the month - Horned Grebe
While Lake Murray hosts many eared grebes, a horned grebe is a rarity. This one stayed around for quite a while, enjoying small fish near the sandy beach.
There is another family across the lake. The dominant male may be George's brother or cousin, but it is not sure. He appears to be about the same age as George and usually has chicks around the same time George does. Some of his chicks mate with some of George's chicks. Dee, for example, is one of the other male's chicks. Killer Jr. also may have mated with Dee's sister, Shy's female chick. Last year, Shy visited George's territory and Killer courted her. George fought with Shy's dad often, but as long as Shy was there, he wasn't going to leave. Eventually, both he and Shy left without Killer. Later, Dee came over and chose Killer as a mate on her own and her dad and mom stayed with her and Killer for a while. Killer was a perfect host and got along with her dad well, but didn't like her mom.
In 2011, the other family had four boys, but only one is confirmed to be mated to one of George's daughters so far. Another one mated with George's grand-daughter, Georgina. One of their four sons, Squiggy, seemed interested in Squeak or her sister, but never bonded with either one of them. Squeak ended up being mate to Squiggy's brother, Pollux. And, Killer's daughter seems to be bonding to the grandson of the "other male across the lake" who is un-named right now. Recently, it has been confirmed that George's grandson, Killer Junior has found a mate with Shy's daughter (his cousin), Miracle.
In 2012-2013, the head of the family and his mate were only seen a few times. However, their daughter, Shy and her mate still stake a claim to territory in the area. Miracle and Killer are also still seen. But, the big kahuna in this part of the lake, right now, is Pollux with his mate, Squeak. Who would have known that tiny, scrawny little Pollux would be the boss of the northern part of the lake?
In 2014, all the killdeer left during the summer. This male and his mate have not been seen since late in 2013.
I wrote a little story about George and his family called "Brave Tiny". It's, of course, fictionalized and anthropomorphised to an extent where the animals talk to each other. But, I tried to keep the behaviors natural. It's aimed towards older children, but can be a good read for adults, too!
Brave Tiny Kindle Edition.
Brave Tiny large paperback edition.
More killdeer information
- Cornell Lab of Ornithology--Killdeer
Learn how to identify Killdeer, its life history, cool facts, sounds and calls, and watch videos. A shorebird you can see without going to the beach, Killdeer are graceful plovers common to lawns, golf courses, athletic fields, and parking lots. Thes
- The Precocious Killdeer
Killdeer are precocial birds: the young are hatch fluffy and ready to run. By their behavior, parents tell you chicks are nearby.
- Whatbird.com about Killdeer
Whatbird's guide to killdeer.
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