Killdeer Cam – The Final Episode

Update – July 11, 2013

Having consulted with Mama Killdeer, Alice and I settled on a quiet theme of Gravel with Scattered Leaves for the nursery. With all preparations done, we settled in to wait for the big arrival with Mama and Papa killdeer.

What a busy week we had!

On Monday, there were only three eggs in the nest. I assumed that my worst fear had come true, and a predator had stolen an egg. Both parents were highly agitated and we left them alone with their grief.

On Tuesday, Sarah and I were in Richmond at a meeting. Alice was holding down the fort with a visiting group of about 40 Master Naturalists here for a lecture about bats. Needless to say, the parking lot was buzzing and there were too many cars too close to the nest. But! With three eggs still in the nest, the MN reported that they had spotted a baby following the adults around. Whew. No snake.

On Wednesday, we had two more hatch. And while we never saw all three at one time, I did sit for awhile to watch the toddlers and saw at least two together.

That last egg still lay in the nest, and we wondered if and when it might join the brood. I had parked my car in such a way as to discourage foot and auto traffic from the area.

The Lone Ranger
The Lone Ranger

By this time, Mama and Papa had gotten pretty used to Alice and me. So when I packed up to leave yesterday evening, Mama was on the nest and didn’t budge when I started loading up my car. Just a few feet from the nest, and with my back to her, I quietly got my camera out of the bag, turned it on and got it all ready to go.

Mama gave me the stink eye, thought about it briefly, and decided she didn’t like it. Off she hopped, with two babies scuttling behind her. In the nest, snuggled together, were #3 AND #4, though at first it was hard to tell them apart. But when #3 ran off to join the family, #4 – obviously freshly hatched – remained in the nest.

Mama scolded from the grass a few yards away, but I did get a few great shots before leaving them alone.

Web_killdeer-mom-and-baby

So glad I did, because when I got to work this morning, I was alone. These birds had flown. (Sorry, sometimes I can’t help myself). The nest was empty and there was not a killdeer in sight. What fun we had having them here. Hopefully they’ll nest here again in 2014.

Update – June 26, 2013

Boy, are we ever lucky to have Hullie Moore on the Menokin Board of Trustees. Renowned landscape photographer of the Shenadoah National Park, Hullihen Williams Moore has turned his lens (along with myriad other talents) to Menokin.

Hullie was here for an Education Committee meeting yesterday and I introduced him to Mama and Papa Killdeer. While I stalked the nest, he took these gorgeous shots of their defense and distraction methods.

June 19, 2013

Late last week, I noticed a killdeer sitting in the gravel drive that circles in front of the Menokin Visitor’s Center. She wasn’t doing anything odd, but her stillness and lack of activity caught my attention.

The next morning, Alice and I drove in (same morning as the “turtle sighting“) and she was back. Different spot, but just sitting. I remembered back several years ago when one laid eggs right in the parking lot at Nunnally’s in Warsaw, and commented to Alice that I bet that bird was going to lay some eggs in our driveway.

I approached where she was sitting and she hopped up, scolding and dragging her wing in an effort to lead me away from her spot. Not fooled, I scanned the area closely to see if I could find a nest.

Nothing.

I was out of the office the next morning, but called Alice to check on the situation.  The killdeer was back again, same spot. Much to the bird’s annoyance, Alice approached to see if there was any activity. Eureka! Two eggs. Mama and Papa Killdeer scolded, limped and yelled, but brave Alice took a picture anyway.

Excited as two expecting moms, Alice and I went into supreme protective mode. Alice dragged two old pallets to block the nest from any vehicles and we started picking out names. (Iris and Rosalie.)

Day three, Alice and I were busy discussing nursery colors and preschools. I went outside to look in on our budding family. Hot tempered Mama (or Papa, as I soon learned) – still displeased with the interruptions – revealed a surprise. Another egg! Three! (New name – Susan.)

Iris, Rosalie and Susan
Iris, Rosalie and Susan
A Killdeer nest is a shallow depression scratched into the bare ground, typically 3-3.5 inches across. After egg-laying begins, Killdeer often add rocks, bits of shell, sticks, and trash to the nest. Curiously, these items tend to be light colored, and this tendency was confirmed in one experiment that gave Killdeer the choice between light and dark sticks.

By now, we have hooked Sarah in on the excitement. What in the world will we ever do with triplets? Too anxious to let a day go by without any news, I stopped yesterday to check on my girls. Mama KD rolled her eyes and obligingly hopped off the nest, too used to me by now to make much of a fuss. Or maybe she was tired from her night’s labors. Because where there once were three, are now four.

We are out of names. What will we do?

Thinking that surely we will have hatchlings by week’s end at the speed we are going, we Googled the gestation period of Killdeer eggs. Much to our disappointment, this part of the process is not speedy.

Baby birds that hatch with their running shoes on are called precocial. Precocial means “ripened beforehand.” (The word comes from the same Latin source as “precocious.”) Killdeer babies are precocial. They hatch with their eyes open, and as soon as their downy feathers dry, they start scurrying about, following their parents and searching the ground for something to eat.

And then there were four.
The parent killdeer start sitting on the eggs to incubate them as soon as all the eggs have been laid. The killdeer embryos inside the first-laid three eggs do not start developing while the eggs are sitting out in the cold. But when they feel the warmth of the parent killdeer, all four killdeer embryos start developing at the same time. So even though the first-laid egg spends a longer time in the shell than the last-laid, all the killdeer chicks have the same development period. It takes 24 to 28 days of incubating for the chicks to hatch.

So, while we wait for the babies to come, here are some stunning shots of Mama (or Papa) at work, making sure that we stay far enough away from the eggs.

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