07.09.17: Killdeer and egg

A Killdeer stands over its egg camouflaged by rocks in Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Oak Harbor, Ohio. 


Technical information

May 9, 2013,
11:07 a.m.

41°37’2” N, 83°13'7" W
(Show in Google Maps)

Canon EOS 7D

Canon EF 600mm f/4L, Canon 1.4x teleconverter (840mm) 


1/1000th second


I often see Killdeer when I’m near an ocean or large lake, but Killdeer are probably the least shore-dependent of all the shorebirds. I’ve seen them in wetlands, on golf courses and on lawns.

But they are fun to watch during nesting season because of the  interesting strategy they use to protect their nests. They feign injury to distract predators, dragging a wing on the ground as they limp away from the nest in an attempt to get the predator to follow. Once the potential predator follows the “injured” Killdeer a sufficient distance from the nest, the bird will hurry back to resume protection duties.

We encountered this Killdeer on a gravel trail in Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge near Lake Erie in Northern Ohio. The bird saw us approaching, dropped a wing to the ground and limped off. We stopped and watched. It came back to the trail and repeated the injured act. We still watched.

When it returned again I grabbed a couple of shots of the bird standing in the gravel before it dropped a wing again and limped off. This time we followed.

The bird seemed pleased that we had followed, then it returned to its original spot on the trail. We assumed the nest was somewhere nearby, but we didn’t see it.

Later, when I loaded the photos onto the computer, I noticed something I hadn’t seen while watching the bird. Beneath it, blending with the gravel, is an egg. The Killdeer's nest was in the middle of the trail.

Apparently that isn’t uncommon. According to my favorite bird information source, All About Birds, Killdeer nests are typically in shallow depressions — about three inches across — scratched into the ground. Killdeer often add white rocks, sticks or shells to the nest. In this case, the trail was filled with white rocks.

I’m just glad we didn’t step on the egg. We never knew it was there.

By the way, the Killdeer does replace the broken wing defense method with another equally interesting display used against larger threats to the nests. According to All About Birds, “To guard against large hoofed animals, the Killdeer uses a quite different display, fluffing itself up, displaying its tail over its head, and running at the beast to attempt to make it change its path.”

Each week I will post a photo from my collection with an explanation of how I got the shot. Previous photos of the week are in the archives.