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The American Killdeer-A Bird That Likes To Play Possum

Updated on July 15, 2015

The American Killdeer

The Killdeer, so named for the loud Kill-deer shrill that it makes when disturbed on the nest, is a common bird that nests on lawns, golf courses and even landfills. It is a master of disguise when it comes to camouflaging its eggs and nest.
The Killdeer, so named for the loud Kill-deer shrill that it makes when disturbed on the nest, is a common bird that nests on lawns, golf courses and even landfills. It is a master of disguise when it comes to camouflaging its eggs and nest.

Have you ever had a bird, try to build a nest in the middle of your driveway? One summer's day during mid June, several years ago, I had the pleasure of playing the role as landlord to a bird, that took up residence on my multi-colored, graveled driveway. The bird of mention here, was an American Killdeer. The Killdeer is a very common bird, which belongs to the shorebird family.


The Killdeer can be found in Kentucky and elsewhere throughout the states, including the Northeast. As I discovered sometime afterward. This is a bird that likes to play possum, or make believe that it is half dead; by taking one or both of its wings and dragging them along the ground. In an effort to deter a variety of wild and domestic animals, which may be seeking to make a quick meal out of its eggs, or even the young hatchlings. Killdeers are also master's of disguise when it comes to concealing or camouflaging their eggs.


Killdeers do not actually build their nest in a tree, or even on the ground like most birds do, building them out of sticks and twigs. Rather they either make or find a depression over a landscape, that is preferably course sand or rocky in nature.


In my experience with mother Killdeer, who had taken up residence in my driveway as previously mentioned. I had soon learned that my graveled driveway was to be a very suitable place to lay her four eggs on, and raise her chicks.


It was certainly a challenge during the summer months to avoid driving the car over her nest. Or for that matter walking near the area and being ever so careful as not to step on the eggs, mistaking them for gravel, or stones.


What I eventually ended up doing, even though I knew the general placement of the nest. Was to hammer one by two sticks, into the ground. I arranged them in such a manner that they encompassed a given perimeter around the driveway and nest.


So by doing this, myself and others who came to my home, would know not to drive on this part of the driveway. A dried up, grassy area parallel to the graveled drive, turned out to make a suitable area to park our vehicles on, throughout the remainder of that summer season. Giving mother Killdeer plenty of area to still raise her young on.


And all this for a bird, which I'm sure many people would do, given a similar situation. Many birds are defenseless when it comes to protecting themselves and territory. Owls and Hawks have an advantage for example, because they have powerful talons and beaks, which can literally tear the skin off of an invading predator.


The Killdeer, as I mentioned prior, has developed a skill given to it by nature of almost rolling over and playing stone dead, much like a possum does when confronted. When I approached the Killdeer nest unknowingly the first time, this bird raised herself up from a formally crouched position.


She then proceeded to begin puffing up her feathers and making a high pitched and very loud shrill. She had than in turn, began to move away from the nest dragging one of her narrow angled wings along the graveled ladden driveway.


The idea here was to get me to follow her and lead me further away from her nest and eggs. Smart bird! I thought to myself. What she accomplished to do, worked out well and totally fooled me at first. Afterward when I tried looking for the again again when she had left the nest-I could barely see them.


They were neatly huddled closely together in a rocky depression within my driveway. They were olive-white in color and speckled with dark brown and black blotches. It was the perfect camouflage I thought because the eggs literally blended in with the various colored stones in my driveway.


Hence I thought to myself not only is this bird, the Killdeer great at playing possum, but thought to myself, she's also great at playing master of disguise, in concealing her nest in such a clever way. Taking advantage of the surrounding landscape to conceal the nest and eggs from predators like fox, possum and yes, even house cats. This particular bird was basically taking advantage of what Mother Nature had to offer - her surroundings!


After several weeks had gone by, the eggs had hatched and the Killdeer mom, was the proud parent bird of four baby chicks. They were a somewhat dark buff and fluffy color, like some baby birds usually are. And It appeared that they were raring to go, even at this early point in time. In fact with killdeer fledglings it takes no more than about a week and a half or so, before they're off and running with the mother. If a Killdeer built her nest on let's say a flat rooftop, which they sometimes do.


The fledged chicks in this type of predicament, will jump down from the roof, in pursuit of the mother. That is if she first jumps or flies off the roof top nest first. These Killdeer chicks grow and mature more quickly than one would think.


In fact if two of the eggs are laid, three to four days apart from the other two for example, the baby birds when they hatch in the eggs that were laid later, will be just as healthy and basically the same size as their brothers or sisters were that hatched a few days earlier. Mother nature is mysterious in this way, especially when it comes to the bird world.


After a few weeks of having been raised by the mother in my driveway, the chicks were already about half the size of their mother and they were off creeping quickly in spurts up the driveway. Killdeers are also pretty interesting to watch, in terms of movement. If you're familiar with other shorebirds that can be found along the bay and oceans, like ruddy turnstones, sandpipers and even endangered piping plovers. These birds all have movements similar to each other, including the killdeer.

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The Killdeer not only looks very similar to a Piping Plover, it also moves very quickly in short spurts along the shoreline, like the plover or even the sandpiper. Sometimes in the early evening, when the sun has dipped below the horizon and dusk has settled in, the plover can be heard making a loud Kill-dee, Kill-deer, Kill-dee sound as it circles nearby overhead.


Most likely in an effort to ward off, an approaching intruder or predator from its nesting area. Common and least terns, can also sometimes be found, or heard in the early evening hours as well, making similar sounds To their nesting areas.


I do have to admit though, that when mother Killdeer and her family of four chicks moved out of my driveway, I was sorry to see them go. I like to think that they went onto more greener pastures, so to speak. They were without a doubt, probably the best tenants anyone, including myself could ever ask for And that only Mother Nature herself could provide.



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    • Jlbowden profile image
      Author

      James Bowden 2 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Bill:

      Appreciate the comment and hope you enjoyed the read. Yes the Kildeers mainly occupy open flat areas around golf courses and landfills believe it or not. However much like the endangered piping plover. The Killdeer usually frequent our area mainly during the summer months, and migrate to more southern locations during the fall months.

      It's always a good feeling to help out our fellow creatures when in a difficult spot like this one. I'm sure Mother Nature appreciates this as well! (;

      Jl

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      An enjoyable story and facts as a bonus. I don't think we have them here in Washington. If we do, I've never seen them. I love that you protected them....way to go, Jim!