February 28, 2020
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Killdeer signal spring’s return

Red-winged blackbirds are the first to come. They are visiting feeders in flocks and looking over the cattail marshes, waiting for the ice to go away.

Vultures are back, too, finding dead mammals for food in deer yards, moose areas and along roads.

Speaking of mammals, woodchucks and chipmunks are out of their deep sleep of hibernation. Their temperature is now up to normal, up from their low 42-degree temperature of winter. They are moving around looking for mates.

Bears, skunks and raccoons are out now, too. They were “denned up” most of the winter, but their temperature had not been greatly lowered. Now you can see their tracks in mud and sometimes after a late snowstorm.

Recently, I saw a wonderful spring bird, a killdeer, flying over a large field. It kept giving its usual call, “kill-deer, deer, deer.”

The bold black bands on a killdeer’s chest function to disrupt the silhouette of the bird. A fox may not recognize the killdeer as prey. The fox has a mental image of a bird, and the mental image is disrupted with those bold bands. A fox may overlook the killdeer.

If that doesn’t work, then killdeer have another ruse. They use the broken-wing trick. Later in spring, in May, they will make a nest on the ground, typically on a pebbly area of short grass. The nest is only an unlined depression in the ground, scratched out by killdeer feet. The spotted eggs blend in with the ground.

If a fox smells or spots the killdeer, the bird goes away from the nest with one wing in the air and the other wing on the ground, making loud noises to attract the predator.

The killdeer lure the fox away by running with one wing down, then fly a little, then run again, until the eggs or young are safe.

Young killdeer look like little balls of brown and white fluff with long legs, short bills and bright eyes.

Killdeer make their nests on pebbly parts of golf courses, on the edges of roads, parking lots and train lines. They also nest on baseball fields, overgrazed pastures and pebbly roofs of buildings.

If it were only a fox following the killdeer, that would be OK, but often it is a pack of joyful, well-fed dogs tearing around together.

It can be a nerve-wracking May for those who look for killdeer in those areas.

For information on Fields Pond Audubon Center, call 989-2591.

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