Posts Tagged ‘Killdeer’


Whose swamp this is I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his swamp…

Okay, that’s a bit of a stretch. But I think of Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening whenever I stop to appreciate this wetland that is bisected by a paved road on my route to Prescott. It evokes the same sense of stillness that Frost’s poem deftly captures.

If time allows, I park my car on the shoulder, turn off the ignition and climb out to gaze over the water. On a hot summer’s day, the heat of the sun envelopes me and a deep, penetrating silence settles into my bones. Soon the abundant life of the wetland becomes apparent, the quiet sounds of birds and frogs, dragonflies zipping back and forth, littles intensely living out their lives.

On the west side of the road, the wetland runs toward swamp, with dead trees and snags punctuating the water surface. To the east, the wetland is more marshy, with cattails and open water. In winter, it is dotted with muskrat houses.


I especially enjoy watching the dragonflies. The cast of characters changes across the season. When I visited early in July, the water surface was alive with bluets, brilliant blue damselflies. (There are a number of bluet species, difficult to differentiate.) Many were curled into copulation wheels, whereby the male transfers a packet of sperm to the female. This can take a few minutes or as long as an hour. Soon after mating, the female will lay her eggs in water or on plant material.


This weekend, Easter Pondhawks (Erythemis simplicicollis) predominated. They’re members of the Skimmer family, Libellulidae.


As I watched, I could see many females skimming the surface, dipping into the water, depositing their eggs.

>Female Eastern Pondhawk

Others were wrapped in copulation wheels, the female in the rear or lower position.

Eastern Pondhawks

I was startled when a heron that I hadn’t even noticed suddenly flew up with an extended loud expression of its annoyance. It flew across the road and settled far along the edge of the east marsh, away from my prying eyes.


When I crossed to the east side of the road, a little flock of Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) kept a close eye on me and let out their distinctive alarm shrieks before whirling away to a more distant mudflat. They were keeping company with some Upland Sandpipers (Bartramia longicauda). You can just see one peeking out to the right of the Killdeer.


The water surface was dotted with little yellow flowers, bladderwort (Ulticularia sp). Can you spot the frog watching me?


I could hear a bird sound coming from the cattails and walked up the road to get a better view. I thought it might be a bittern, and didn’t really expect to see anything. Bitters are very hard to spot in vegetation. I was surprised to find instead this chicken-sized bird strolling along the water’s edge.


A Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)! In spite of the name, moorhens aren’t a very common sight and I was delighted to encounter this one. There was some movement of something dark behind her, but I wasn’t able to make out what it was. Perhaps she had chicks with her. What an exciting find!


I was sorry to leave, but I had errands to run. Miles to go…


Read Full Post »


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:


Read Full Post »


I could hear a Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) calling from the field and took my camera to capture a picture of him. This proved harder than I anticipated because, looking through the viewfinder, it was difficult to see the Killdeer against the background of the field. The above photograph gives a good idea of how well the bird blended into his surroundings. The colour pattern of the Killdeer is termed disruptive. The two bands of black and white on the head and neck break up the outline of the bird and make it more difficult to see against a variegated background.

Killdeer nest on the ground, so their cryptic colouring serves an important function. The nest, often situated in an open area with little surrounding vegetation, is little more than a scrape in the ground, with little or no grass lining. The buff-coloured eggs are marked with a blackish-brown pattern that helps to conceal the nest against a pebble or gravel background. If it is very hot, Killdeer may soak the feathers of their bellies and use them to wet the eggs to keep the developing embryos from overheating in their unshaded nest. Killdeer young don’t need a home as sturdy as a robin’s nest because the hatchlings are precocial. They follow their parents soon after birth and find their own food. They are able to fly in about 25 days after hatching. The Killdeer’s well-known broken-wing display, also used by other shorebirds and waterfowl and ground-nesters, is a devise to lead intruders away from the unconcealed nest.


Read Full Post »