Meeped by the Killdeer

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Killdeer by Brian Garrett (2015) CC BY-ND 2.0, via Flickr, https://flic.kr/p/sq5NUH

During my lunch breaks at work, I eat quickly and then take a walk around the block. (It wakes me up and makes the next few hours sitting behind a computer screen a little more bearable.) Over the last few weeks, I’ve been watching the spring flowers bloom and the trees start to leaf out, as well as the various animals adapted to the suburban environment of Ypsilanti township.

This week, I noticed a new critter hanging out in the corner in the parking lot.  It was a brown, smallish bird with a quick, no-nonsense gait booking its way across the potholes.  I’d seen that characteristic walk before… on the beach.   It was a Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus), which bears a distinct resemblance to its beach-hopping cousin, the Semipalmated plover (Charadrius semipalmatus.)(Tangent: Semipalmated plovers were frequent companions back in the days of American Oystercatcher adventures of 2002.)

As the Killdeer became aware of my presence, it picked up its pace to New York City-commuter worthy speeds, and it led me away from its original location. I followed behind at a distance, trying to get a better look at its stripes and coloration.

Suddenly, I heard a loud “Meeping” and watched the bird collapse in crumpled heap of feathers to the cracked asphalt of parking lot. Alarmed, I approached to find out what was happening. But after a few seconds, the heap of bedraggled bird quickly righted itself with a flash of orange tail feathers and flew away, “Meeping” loudly.

I had just been had by the old “broken wing display” routine. The bird intentionally lured me away from its nesting location to protect its babies.

The next day, I saw two killdeers of equal size (Mom & Dad?) running around what I was coming to think of “their” corner of the parking lot. One of them, vociferously meeping (true to its name) led me across the street to Rite Aid and flew away.

On my next break, I came back and saw one the Killdeers and a much smaller one (the chick!) The small one looked a lot like the adult, gamely walking along the pavement, except it was FLUFFY and couldn’t fly when it flapped its tiny wings. When the parent bird saw me, it started running away from the baby bird as fast as it could, “meeping.” I looked for the baby, but couldn’t see it. I think it possibly ducked into some bushes at the edge of the parking lot, because I heard an smaller “Meep” answering from the bushes.

Adult Killdeer and chick
Killdeer by Teddy Llovet (2011) CC BY-NC 2.0 via Flickr, https://farm6.staticflickr.com/5022/5753202877_0cf9cdb017_z.jpg

I am absolutely smitten with this killdeer family, and hope I’m not stressing them out too much each time I walk by their home. It’s amazing to me how these birds have adapted to an urban environment full of various predators (dogs, cats, cars, bigger birds) and appear to be thriving. Also, the Killdeer seem to do pretty well with avoiding the cars (thought it’s not a very busy parking lot), as well as how well they seem to camouflage into the cracked asphalt surface.

More about Killdeer from Naturalist at Lake Erie Metropark: Why Killdeer Have Orange Butts

Edit: (new) Ursula Vernon’s New Orleans Killdeer Encounter

Commuters

Flying heron holding a branch
By PhotoBobil (Heron 21 Uploaded by Snowmanradio) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AArdea_herodias_-Illinois%2C_USA_-flying-8.jpg

Each morning and evening, I look up into the sky above the parking lot outside the apartment. If I’m lucky, I catch a glimpse of the commuters. Their distinctive silhouette against the sky, like giant pterodactyls with long sticklike legs, makes them immediately recognizable. I see them on my way to work, and then again in the evening from my balcony when I return home.

Sometimes, I see them flying singly or in pairs. Once, I saw a pair of Herons pass a third flying in the opposite direction. Do Great Blue Herons commute to one marsh to fish and hunt each morning, then fly back to their nests in the evening? Maybe they fight sky traffic the way the more earthbound of us do, inching along on I-94 during rush hour.

More about Great Blue Herons in Michigan:

Know your Michigan Birds: Great Blue Heron
Michigan DNR: Great Blue Heron
University of Michigan BioKIDS: Great Blue Heron