Watching killdeer, and celebrating life

May 14, 2020

This male is returning to take his turn incubating the eggs, which are hard to distinguish from the parking lot gravel. The pair started by scraping a slight depression in the gravel, then enhanced it with sticks of wood and possibly other debris.

 

The killdeer, a common species of plover, “nests and forages on gravel parking lots” among other places, according to The Sibley Guide to Birds. No wonder Gearhart naturalist and photographer Neal Maine gets calls every spring from friends and acquaintances who stumble upon a killdeer nest at, say, the gravelly edge of a bank parking lot or, last year, a patch of cobble at the Cove in Seaside.

But the nest that caught Neal’s interest this year was unique. COVID-19 precautions shut down youth sports in early spring. Which shuttered playing fields. Which left the vast gravel parking lots at the soccer fields off Ridge Road in Warrenton empty, and gave one killdeer pair their pick of nest sites. Normally it would have been a terrible option, with cars constantly driving in and out. This year it was perfect.

Several bird species are known to practice injury-feigning, or broken-wing display: attempting to lure away a potential predator by walking away from the nest with what appears to be a broken wing. Killdeer are especially known for this strategy.

 

Killdeer chicks are precocial: “They practically run out of the eggs as soon as they’re born,” Neal says. He photographed this just-hatched chick last spring at the Cove in Seaside.

 

Why spend hours—in fact, weeks—watching a killdeer nest when there are rarer, more spectacular birds to watch this time of year? Neal sums up his answer as simply “the springtime wonder of it all.”

“It’s all in the eye of the beholder. We’re the ones that decide what’s important.” Watching a killdeer “lay its eggs, incubate its eggs, fake death if it has to” is as good a way to celebrate life as any other, Neal says. And this moment in history, he adds, is a good time to be celebrating life.

“We’re not traveling to the Galapagos Islands anytime soon, but in your backyard, the wildlife is more beautiful than it’s ever been.”

Join our Coastal Backyard Bird Count June 6.

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