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Meet Killdeer

The killdeer is a familiar species across North America, thanks to its preference for open habitats and its loud calls, which give it its common name — “killdeer.” Although classified as a shorebird, it is most often found in areas far from water.

In Michigan, killdeer migrate south to Central America in the fall of each year to escape harsh winter weather and return to breed in mid-April. They usually nest in open areas on a gravel surface. Both the male and female participate in building the nest, which is simply a shallow depression on the ground out in the open, lined with small rocks and shells. The female lays a clutch of four to six eggs, which are beige in color with black and brown speckles to make them blend perfectly with their surroundings.

Male and female take turns incubating the eggs for about four weeks. Killdeer chicks are precocial; they are covered with down and able to walk almost immediately. Soon afterward, the parents lead them away from the nest, generally into a feeding area with dense vegetation under which they can hide when a predator is

near. The chicks are usually attended by one parent at a time (generally the female) until they are about two weeks of age, after which both parents are often seen together with them. After about a month, the chicks are able to fly, and then they move to moist areas in valleys and on the banks of rivers.

Killdeer eggs and chicks are preyed upon by herring gulls, crows, raccoons, and striped skunks. During the breeding season, the parents use various methods to distract predators. One method is the "broken-wing display.” The parent runs away from the nest, making loud alarm calls, and once it has the attention of the predator, it flops around pretending to be wounded.

In Caro, MI, where my Dad lives, it is almost all farm fields with a river running thought the area. He has a 1/4 acre garden lined with cobblestone paths and it's at least a mile from the river. But every year, a dedicated pair of Killdeer lay four or five eggs in the pathway. So for a few weeks, we all have to stay away from the area of their nest in May and that area of the garden always ended up weedy and rather untended. But then one day, the eggs hatch and they are simply gone, off to the farm fields and probably the river to grow up and do it all again next year. Their beautiful eggs are the focus of this piece I painted this spring.

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