Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Baby killdeer

At long last, the killdeer nest which has been hindering any heavy work in the garden has hatched.

If you recall, we had a killdeer nest smack in the middle of the garden. Killdeer eggs are practically invisible, and I inadvertently crushed two of them by dragging hoses over the nest. Over the next two days, the mother laid two more eggs to make up the necessary four. After I knew where the nest was, I was able to avoid it.

As the weeks went by, the parent birds seem to realize I meant them no harm. In fact, the very day the eggs hatched, I slowly weeded my way toward the nest, moving carefully, and the mother (or father, I can't tell them apart) actually allowed me to get within two feet of her. I could have reached out and touched her.

A couple hours after this, Don came in and said two of the eggs had hatched. I snatched up the camera and went to see.

These were the original two eggs in the nest. The other two were a day or two behind developmentally.

The mother, fluffed up to accommodate the extra mass beneath her, stayed diligently on the nest. There was an extra note of concern in her voice and I stayed my distance (which is why some of the photos are blurry or cropped).

Here the parents are doing the "changing of the guard" over the newborn chicks.

You can see a baby (on the left) taking a peek from underneath the mother.

Here are both chicks.

Here's another "changing of the guard."

When I enlarged and cropped the nest, I saw another hatched chick (the third) and one unhatched egg.

In no time at all, the two older newborns were on their feet, while the third newly-hatched baby wobbled near the nest and one unhatched egg remained. Soon the two older chicks were running around everywhere...

...with one parent following behind, trying to keep them reigned in.

My goodness, if I thought the parents were busy before, it was nothing next to having hatchlings everywhere. While one parent chased after the mobile babies, the other stayed on the nest and supervised the newborn and the as-yet-unhatched egg.

Here's (presumably) the mama, with the third hatchling starting to push away from under her.

Here's a cropped closeup of the third chick.

Pretty soon it, too, was on its feet, stumbling and tripping and behaving remarkably like a newborn calf as it tries to stand and walk for the first time.

The chicks are astoundingly cryptic. See the chick in this photo? Yeah, it took awhile for me to see it too.

How about now?

Finally the fourth egg hatched.

Here's baby with a parent.

Once the last baby left the nest, I checked for eggshells. Nothing. I'm guessing the parents dispose of the shells after the babies hatch.

Soon the two older babies went outside the garden, with (presumably) the dad keeping an eye on them, while mom and the two younger kids remained in the garden. They were in constant vocal communication during this separation, a sort of killdeer version of the game "Marco Polo."

Once the two younger chicks were both strong enough, the mother left the garden with them and joined up with papa. It became apparent the adults were slowly herding their brood away from the garden and toward the woods, though to do that they had to cross the entire driveway area and the entire feedlot.

Here is one of the parents with three of the chicks, crossing the bumpy dirt in the feedlot.

It was hard to focus as well as hard to get all four chicks together (you can just see the beak of the fourth chick on the upper left). It was tough going for the babies, climbing up and down the ridges and tracks in the feedlot.

When they reached the shade of the gate post, the whole family stopped to rest for about ten minutes (yes, all four chicks are in the photo).

Here's a last glimpse of the family before they made their way into the tall grasses and then into the woods.

I sincerely hope the babies survive since, as Don pointed out, they're like little walking Chicken McNuggets at this stage.

Still, they were fun to watch. Bon voyage, little killdeer.


  1. Neat series of photos! How long between when they all hatched before heading to the woods?

  2. I checked my camera details. First photos of the babies were taken at 11:50 am. Final photos were taken at 4 pm.

    - Patrice

    1. Wow...and I thought my baby grew up quick lol!

  3. That is a great series of photos. It always amazes me how fast the wild critters get mobile.

  4. What a wonderful story and photos!! Great reporting!! Thanks for sharing your talent with us!

  5. Thanks for posting these photos & comments. They bring joy to an old man's heart.
    Hangtown Frank

  6. So interesting Patrice - thanks - we had to go look up more on the killdeer when daughter asked if the adults can fly..http://www.birdwatching.com/stories/killdeer.html

  7. Your Killdeers did better than my Pheobes. The same 2 nest every year here under the barn porch. 2 clutches a summer too. Chicks hatch out just fine then just as they fledge, throw themselves out of the nest and die. I've tried putting them back but they just do it again till they finally just kark it. Seems such a waste.

  8. Wow, crazy how well they blend!

  9. They'll return next year to the same place as will the babies to lay more eggs. We encourage them around here to go outside our active area by constantly being in their way.