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Possumhaw: The pleasure of a plover


Shannon Bardwell



Leaving town by way of Waverly Ferry Road, near Plymouth Road, down near Water's Truck & Tractor, I curved left toward the Highway 82 West on-ramp. It's my preferred way of returning to the Prairie, avoiding traffic and stop lights; not to mention it's much more interesting.  


There in the curve was a small but obvious plover. He stood erect on two stick-like legs looking completely unconcerned with the trucks, tractors or any other moving vehicles. 


The plover, more specifically called a killdeer, is a shore bird that enjoys inhabiting roadsides, driveways, parking lots, athletic fields, even golf courses. It's a wonder any of the birds survive, having a ridiculous desire to nest in such perilous locations. 


Years ago, a killdeer nested within an inch of the driveway. I fashioned a bit of a flag to warn motorists to steer clear of the bird's nest. At that time, I had Jesse, a gentle Great Pyrenees. Every morning Jesse and I walked the perimeter of the property, being careful to avoid the area of the killdeer.  


I watched the killdeer and her tan, dark-spotted, eggs daily, waiting for little killdeers. Then one day, suddenly, Jesse broke from my side and before I could do a thing he walked directly to the little nest and ate the eggs. I was horrified.  


The killdeer has some unusual methods of warding off predators. The birds are masters at the broken wing charade. When predators approach, the killdeer makes wounded bird sounds and fakes a broken wing; they bob up and down, all while hopping away from the nest. The predator follows the supposed easy prey; then the killdeer flies away. 


A killdeer may encounter a horse or cow and the bird will pull its tail over its head and charge the animal, hoping to persuade it to alter its course -- an odd sight indeed. 


Killdeer are ground foragers eating insects, earthworms and agricultural seed. They do not frequent bird feeders. Oddly enough, they are good swimmers. 


The male and the female build the nest together, such as it is. The procedure is called a "scrape ceremony" where the male scrapes a shallow indention in the ground with his feet. It's only after the eggs are laid that the birds will fill the nest with pebbles. When the young hatch, they will be completely feathered and their eyes wide open. And as soon as the feathers dry the hatchlings will walk away, though tipsy at first like a new fawn. Then they begin to search for food with their parents. There's no sitting and waiting in the nest like birds born without feathers. 


Killdeer make a noisy and shrill sound that sounds like "kill-deer," and thus the name. The male and female tend to stay together for several years. The oldest banded bird captured and recorded was almost 11 years old when he was set free again. 


Summer is the time for spotting baby plovers. Keep an eye out for nesting in odd places.  



Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.


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