My old haunt in Los Angeles, didn’t exactly allow for much viewing of nature – being the concrete jungle and all. On the other hand, living in Paso Robles (wine country) has brought more signs of wildlife to my purview. You never know what might swoop in. Eagles, hawks, owls, falcons, deer, skunks, possum and many others trot through the property. This year brought a new residence to the backyard – which lies on a somewhat steep dirt hill.
Our chronicle begins here: There was this white, grey, black and brown bird, squirming around on the hill, looking like he was trying to take a bath in the dirt. He was jumping in one indentation after another, knocking dirt and dust all over. I found out later it was a mating ritual. Then we (my Dad and I) noticed another bird that looked on. A little later, my Dad (Ron) noticed them again except this time they were mating. Ah, nature. And that was that.
A couple days later, I was doing some measurements for putting an owl box on the hill (to keep the ever-present gopher population down) when I noticed a bird flopping around on the ground. It would skitter (kind of like the birds you see at the beach) but then flop around like its wing was broken. It didn’t seem to be able to fly away so I figured I’d keep an eye on it but considering the cats, skunks, owls, hawks, et al; living was probably out of the question.
Something’s not right
A couple days later, I noticed it again, this time acting weird and shuffling on the ground like it was trying to hide. It disguised itself well on our hillside mainly because after all the rains we had, some little pebbles had surfaced on the hill and the birds black, white, grey and brown matched up. The bird would run away and when I retreated it would dart forward several feet at me, like a bull, so when I turned back and approached and chased it, it flew away. I thought: Wow, it got all better? My curiosity said I needed to find out what this bird was all about.
After some research, I had figured out it was a plover. This bird had distinctive black and white rings around the neck and head so when I noticed a picture of a Killdeer (of the plover family) that had these same black and white stripes plus orange under its wings – I thought maybe that was it. It also had red or orange on the outside of the eye – peculiar. It also had a piercing sound like ‘kee, dee’. Then while researching further, I found it has some odd traits like the screech, running away and then running back towards you; plus, the real kicker was the unique broken wing act it does. Aaahhh.
So now the question was why all the antics? When nesting, these are the bag of tricks the Killdeer uses to lure you away from the nest. Problem was, I had no idea where the nest was. Had I stepped on it and not known? Well as it turned out, I must have missed it by inches because I had just walked right near where it was; but no, I didn’t squash them. It isn’t easy though because the eggs match the nest which is just pebbles. The eggs (four) are so camouflaged with black and white polka dots; you can’t see them without looking very closely … I mean less than a foot or so from the nest.
We marked the area with some old piece of wood in front of the nest about three feet away so we knew where it was and didn’t walk on them. They would do all sorts of gyration when they flew in and you couldn’t miss their high pitched squawk – ‘kee dee’, which is where they get the name Killdeer. And no, they don’t kill deer. Although, it would be nice if … eh, I won’t say anymore.
The two parent Killdeers would take turns sitting on the nest – usually the female during the day and the male at night. At least that’s what they normally do according to research. By the way, my mom was constantly watching over the Killdeer mom. My family watched their family watch our family.
Now, pending any extra peril that may doom the birds, our chronicles happily end here. You say you want more? Hmmm …