Killdeer Broken Wing Act
The Broken Wing Act (also called a distraction or deflection display or paratrepsis) is a nesting bird behavior intended to lure a potential enemy away from the nest or young being protected. It is particularly well known in nesting waders and plovers and doves such as the Mourning Dove.
Faking injury is one of the more common forms of distraction. Birds walk away from the nest with one wing hung low and dragging on the ground, or otherwise looking badly injured, so as to appear as an easy target for a predator. With much movement and loud vocal calls, they will try to lead the enemy away from the nest, taking flight if the predator gets too close. Then they will often fly in nearer again to try to pull the enemy away. These displays are used mainly for ground predators, and are rarely used against flying predators.
The Killdeer is a common small plover, with distinctive black neckbands, that nests directly on the ground and often exhibits this protective behavior. The Killdeer is named for its distinctive “kill-deer” call.
Often I’ve found nests and babies by approaching a noisy bird on the ground. If you get the Killdeer Broken Wing response then you’ll know there’s a nest or babies nearby. Look around carefully, but don’t follow the bird. Instead, move to one side or backwards making VERY sure you don’t step on the eggs. They will be directly on the ground, and are off-white with brown spots and, well, very hard to spot.
The parent bird will try even harder to distract you as you get closer to the nest. You can easily close in on the nest by watching the bird’s behavior. The bird will come closer to you and then move radially away from the nest trying to pull you away. It’s wonderful to do this and find the nest, typically 3-4 eggs. The parent bird, no doubt, does NOT think this is wonderful, however. Shortly after hatching, the tiny baby birds can run very fast and won’t stay around long. The parents will try to lure you away from the scurrying babies also.
A few years ago we visited a Rocky Mountain Horse farm in Ohio while looking for horses to buy. Outside the barn door was a circular driveway surrounding a grassy patch about 40 feet in diameter. There we noticed two Killdeer running around. Approaching them, one started the broken wing act. We quickly located the nest containing 4 eggs. It was the first time we had seen a Killdeer nest.
We were surprised that the nest is, well, nestless – the eggs were just laid on the ground. We also thought “What a stupid place for a nest!” with about a half dozen barn cats wandering around the area. Amazed, we watched an occasional cat walk into the grassy area to be met with by an obviously half dead Killdeer which quickly lured the cat away from the nest. The strategy worked perfectly time and time again. The cats never got near the nest! And never caught an adult Killdeer either.
A bit later we watched the eggs hatching, and an hour after that saw the first baby start running with its Mom. By the next morning there were no eggs, no babies and no adult Killdeer in sight. No smiling cats either.
We very often see and hear Killdeer in fields, on lawns, and even shopping mall parking lots. Usually, Killdeer are not too nervous around people. The videos below will train your ear to the sounds to listen for. Enjoy your search for a live demonstration of the Killdeer Broken Wing act. Happy hunting. By the way, the eggs are delicious – just kidding!
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