by Marilyn and Keith Davis

"When Leaves Fall From Trees"

The Cagey Killdeer

       Spring is right around the corner, even though the Bermuda grass is brown and our roofs still have morning frost. We've had two beautiful days of sunshine, and the ground looks ready to plant a garden. Yes, Spring is almost here. People in southern Utah can hardly wait to be rid of winter. When grasses start to green, Cottonwoods bud out, and the ground defrosts, the Killdeer become very conspicuous. Killdeer love people. People havekilldeer this weird habit of planting grass, and grass is the perfect habitat for insects, their favorite food. Killdeer are shore birds, but show up long distances from any water to use "people habitat", full of bugs. And, they are not afraid of people.

       Killdeer will perform the broken wing display to lure intruders away from their nests. One time my honey and son were hiking in high Alpine meadows filled with beaver dams, when a Killdeer, with her broken-wing display, stayed in front of them for a quarter mile. Once they were clear of her nesting area, her wing miraculously repaired and off she flew. They are known for fluffing themselves up, displaying the tail over the head and running at large animals like cows and horses in an attempt to make it change its course and not step on the nest. Once I witnessed a Killdeer take on a tour bus when the bus made a turn on a dirt and gravel road and was about to squash its nest. The Killdeer won! What a beautiful, feisty bird.

       Killdeer make no nest. They lay eggs in any old impression like the lawn edges of golf courses, fringes of schools, and even on graveled roofs scattered throughout an area. The babies are precocial (they are mobile and able to follow parents right after hatching). Some chicks were observed leaping from a building several stories high and surviving. Their nests have no structure and with the camouflaged eggs, the whole thing blends perfectly into the surroundings. When the chicks hatch, they look like miniatures of the parents. Killdeer are one of the most successful shore birds because of their willingness to adapt to people and civilization.

       Thank you, Brenda Rusnell, for your picture of the Killdeer. Again you have given us an opportunity to recognize this brilliantly painted little bird, who like the rest of the inhabitants of southern Utah, can't wait for spring to come.

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