Monday, October 5, 2009

Fuzzballs on stilts

I've been wanting to post these photos for a while, but they disappeared into the bin of unblogged bloggables. Now, however, we will learn about the making of ploverlets.

Faithful mother Killdeer sits tight, incubating the four eggs that will soon be transformed into precocial little balls of fuzz on sticks. This nest was in a high-traffic area, and the parents became quite used to gawkers.

However, if Killdeer feel their nest is threatened, they'll launch into a remarkable display (this is a different bird/nest than the first photo). Flying a short distance off the nest, the adult Killdeer launches into an acting display worthy of an Academy Award. Crying loudly and piteously, the bird demands the attention of the perceived interloper. Should the invader be a legitimate bad guy, such as a raccoon, the Killdeer will probably capture its attention.

Then comes the old broken wing act. Flashing its bright orange-buff rump - sure to grab attention - the bird staggers about, holding a wing askew and looking all the world like a badly injured creature on its last legs. Easy pickings for the coon, who then will theoretically set after our actor. Problem is, the Killdeer stumbles away, and away from the nest, at about the same pace it's approached. Once our bold protector feels the fool in question has been led an adequate distance away from the nest, an instanteous, magical healing transforms it, and off flies the bird.

Even people not wise to the wiles of Killdeer are regularly tricked by this act. I've gotten more than one call from folks wondering about the seemingly badly injured bird that they ran across. I felt like telling them that the bird is smarter than they are, but I haven't, yet.
All of this effort, if successful, results in the above - tiny Killdeer. Shorebirds are precocial, which means that the young are capable of leaving the nest and running around within hours of hatching. The three juniors above are probably only a day or few old. At this stage they are one-banded - legend has it that a young 'un must successfully slay a deer in order to be awarded its second band.

Micro-killdeer speeding across an opening. For as tiny as they are at this stage, and considering this chick probably pipped its way out of the egg a mere day or so before I saw it, they are lightning fast. It's fun to watch the mindful parents attempting to ride herd over a brood. The little ones don't mind very well, and tend to speed off in all directions while the harried mother tries to keep tabs on everyone.

Even if Killdeer are common, they are a treat.


Heather said...

Today you gave Cute Overload a run for its money. What cute little fuzzballs they are.

Jana said...

Where did killdeer nest before there were parking lots, roads, and railroad tracks?! It sure is a species that has developed an affinity for man-made places.

And what's with the gulls that like shopping center parking lots?

Sentimental Sapsucker said...

Sounds like you have quite a backblog!
Precocial baby birds are some of the cutest creatures on Earth. And regarding Killdeer in general, they have a most haunting call, I think, next to Loons. I enjoy them very much.

S. Annaby