Another early spring migrant has returned to Ontario. I spotted my first Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) of the new season on Wednesday. Killdeer, as their scientific name indicates, are quite vociferous and you often hear them before you see them. In fact, seeing them can be problematic.
With their cryptic coloration, Killdeer can be very hard to spot. It makes taking a photograph challenging when you have to first pick out the subject from the background before you release the shutter.
There’s a good reason for their disguise, of course. Killdeer nest on the ground, often in the open, and their patterned feather coat helps to protect them. Killdeer are also famous for their “broken wing” display, which is used to distract predators and lead them away from the nest. Here he is:
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When I was looking out the window recently, a little bird climbing on the burr oak caught my eye. A Brown Creeper! Although not rare in this region, neither are Brown Creepers (Certhia americana) common birds and I was pleased to spot this individual. As their name suggests, these wee birds creep up the trunks of trees, typically starting at the bottom and working their way up the trunk before flying on to the next tree and starting at the base again.
Creepers prefer mature forest habitat with trees of large diameter, so are not at their most abundant in the agricultural lands of southern Ontario. The population hot spots are Algonquin Provincial Park and Quetico Provincial Park and forested regions to the north. Trees with strongly furrowed bark are preferred for foraging. They probe the crevices for insects and spiders and other tasty, nutritious morsels. The cryptic colouring of creepers helps them to blend right in with the tree bark. In fact, they use their camouflage pattern when pursued, landing on a tree trunk and flattening themselves against the tree, wings spread and motionless.
In breeding season, the female builds her hammock-like cup nest in a gap between the trunk and a flap of loose bark on a dead tree. The male feeds the incubating female. The young can creep up trees from the time they are mobile. Fledglings will roost together in a tight circle, heads to the center. In Ontario, the Brown Creeper population appears to have been stable in recent decades as recorded in the Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario.
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