A killdeer builds its nest
A killdeer builds its nest

Jackie Purcell, Josh’s mother, was visiting The Beekman this weekend, and spotted a nest of a Killdeer. (Charadrius Vociferus). Killdeer are part of the plover family of birds – most of which are shorebirds which make their nests among reeds and sand dunes.

The Killdeer, however, is a type of plover frequently found around farms rather than bodies of water.

With all the hazards of a farmyard, it’s amazing to think that  the Killdeer, like all plovers, lay their eggs on the ground – in this case in the gravel driveway of The Beekman:

Of course the larger rocks you see around the nest were placed there by us, to protect the nest from lawnmowers, weed whackers, and the Fed Ex truck. Squint and you can see the speckled eggs, perfectly camouflaged among the gravel.

A mama bird builds at nest at The Beekman
A mama bird makes herself a home at The Beekman

So how does the Killdeer protect its vulnerable ground nest? …With  some very clever acting skills.

When Killdeer see a predator approaching their nest, they hop off the nest and feign a broken wing, trying to convince the predator to attack them – an apparently easy target – rather than the eggs or chicks.  As it flutters around in the grass, it hops and flies away from the nest, luring the predator farther and farther away.

Our Killdeer actually tries the old broken wing act on our pickup truck every time we turn in the drive.

Below is a short video we took of our mother Killdeer trying to distract us with her “broken” wing. Notice how as she moves further away, she’ll stop, flop on the ground, and spread her feathers awkwardly as if they were damaged. You can also hear her distress call. (Don’t worry, we didn’t bother her for long.)

It’s working for her. Her eggs are still safe. We’ll update with photos once the eggs (hopefully!) hatch.

UPDATE:

As of 6/29, the eggs have still not hatched.

7/4 We returned to the Beekman to find the mother and all the eggs gone.  Not even a bit of shell left.   Spelled out in the gravel was a single word: “croatoan”.  Hmm

by Josh and Brent

Reader Comments

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Barry Cates

I found a killdeer nest today in the gravel drive ,the mom was very loud and upset when i was walking toward the nest ,I seen 2 spekel eegs and how neat ,im going to put marker rocks around it tommif i can catch mom away long enough ,lol im curious to see how long it takes for them to hatch . the bird has such Beautiful colors around her neck .

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Irene H

About two years ago, we were able to watch a Killdeer on her nest in our driveway, and she hatched four gorgeous babies. Since then, every nest we've seen has been destroyed during the night by either a fox or raccoon. It's really disappointing, after enjoying seeing the first set of babies. I didn't realize how difficult it is for these little birds to nest successfully.

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Elaine Hornseth

Third year in a row now I've had a mama killdeer and nest along side my driveway. This year in Montana spring is so late and right now it's snowing on her. Is there anything I can do to protect her from the elements? Do I dare? I just agonize over her discomfort.

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elaine

Third year in a row now I've had a mama killdeer and nest along side my driveway. This year in Montana, spring is so late and right now it's snowing on her. Is there anything I can do to protect her from the elements? I just agonize over her discomfort, especially with rain, snow and cold. I check on her every morning from my front window.

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Dr. Brent

Hi, Elaine

You have to let nature operate. If she feels threatened and has the appropriate survival instinct, she will make certain her offspring are born

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Nancy

My father taught me to drive our old Ford tractor 60 years ago. He was always strict about plowing nice straight furrows except when he saw a Killdeer nest. Then he would carefully plow around it and make sure it wasn't harmed. When the chicks were hatched they could run like the wind almost as soon as their downy feathers were dry. Several times I tried to chase one on my pony and catch it but they always eluded my youthful efforts. When I hear the call of the Killdeers, I know that spring has arrived.

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Ruby

A killdeer nested at my school last year. My high school is set up like a college campus, but much smaller, and I was walking from one building across grass to another building (this grass covered the left over foundation of an old building removed – my school was a military base in the past.), and if it wasn't for her broken-wing act, I probably would've stepped on the nest… 🙁 A couple teachers and some of my friends helped put up caution tape to keep other students from getting near the nest and disturbing them. It was a lot of fun hosting the killdeer, and to my great joy, just today I saw a pair of killdeer on campus again! I can't wait until they nest again 🙂

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Linda

Thank you for going out of your way to try and keep the eggs safe….maybe next year..

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Kirsten

We used to have these all over at the horse farm I where I used to work. They would line what passes for their nest with dried horse manure. What would Martha Stewart say? Once, I even found a nest in our sand riding ring. It is definitely a safety 3rd approach to parenting.

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Connie Wedding

Awwwww!….. What noble and courageous birds, to offer themselves as prey instead of their offspring. Very touching.

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sward

“Croatoan…”–good one! That would be appropriate for birds typically found on the shore. I still wonder about the mystery of that Lost Colony.

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Stacey

Alas, our mama's babies hatched. Three of the four. One lonely egg still sits abandoned under the sun. The babies were so cute running all about the yard on their long legs. Mama had a hard time herding them all.

I did some further research and found that the Killdeer babies unlike most feathered hatchlings are born with feathers already, ready to become independent, and that most commonly, the Killdeer lay on the ground.

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Rod

They look like the Piping Plovers that we have on the beaches in Provincetown.

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Stacey

Wow! We have a mama Killdeer who laid 4 perty little eggs in our mulch…also on the ground in our front yard! We've been keeping close watch on her for two months now…still no hatchlings.

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Hillary L.

I have watched Killdeer nests for years; last year, they nested in the pasure where my horses could have, at any time, wrecked the nest. And I walked past them several times a day, watching the adults' antics when I got too close to the nest. They routinely nest in the gravel driveway leading to my house; we carefully mark each nest, and drive around it if necessary.

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