All four Killdeer Plover chicks that hatched a little over a week ago are all doing remarkably well! They are zooming around the outskirts of Good Harbor Beach and managing to stay out of the way of people and automobiles.
Notice the newborn hatchling’s tiny white dot on the end of its bill. That is the egg tooth it used to pip its way out of the shell. The egg tooth falls off after the first day or so.
I wonder sometimes why Killdeers are so successfully able to reproduce while their smaller cousins struggle so. I think being that much bigger helps a great deal. Killdeer chicks don’t appear to need to thermo snuggle (thermoregulate) nearly as often as do Piping Plover chicks, even on the coldest mornings. And, too, Killdeers are the least beach dwelling Plovers of all and have adapted to nesting in a diverse range of habitats including fields, rooftops, parking lots, gravel pits, and grassy lawns.
My what big feet you have little chick!
The Killdeer Plover family is finding lots to eat amongst the dandelions and weeds at Good Harbor Beach.
A trio of Black-bellied Plovers was foraging at Good Harbor Beach late Wednesday afternoon. They were only there very briefly; Black-bellied Plovers flush easily and the three skittishly flew off together when a happy group of noisy kids came along.
We will never see Black-bellied Plovers nesting. They are migrating north, to breed along the Arctic coast, from Baffin Island, Canada to western Alaska. Just like Piping Plovers, Black-bellied Plover males build nest scrapes and both male and female incubate the eggs.
The eggs look very similar to Killdeer eggs (Killdeers are also a species of plover), the eggs of both species are darker than Piping Plover eggs, and both are more heavily spotted at the large end.
Piping Plover Eggs
Black-bellied Plover eggs , left Killdeer eggs, right
So many species of shorebirds nest in the Arctic. We are so fortunate that Piping Plovers and Killdeers nest on our shores, providing a wonderful window into the life stories of these amazing and resilient creatures.
You may recall that several weeks back we posted a photo of a Killdeer nest with four eggs. I only discovered the nest because each and every time anyone walked past, a Killdeer would call shrilly and drag its wings through the dunes in a dramatic display of “broken wing” trickery. I would often play along and see how far away the Killdeer would take me until one morning I decided to see what it was they were hiding.
Killdeer Broken Wing Distraction Display
Off to the side of the path that leads to the beach, not more than six feet away, was a loose scrape of dirt and sticks, with four perfect Killdeer eggs!
I had no idea when they had been laid, so there was no way of knowing when the chicks would hatch. Each morning on my way to check on the Piping Plovers I’d take a peak, until one day there weren’t any. How sad I thought, and wondered if a predator had eaten the eggs. But the nest had not been disturbed and there were no broken egg shells. A mystery.
The following morning I checked on the Piping Plover nest in the parking lot. It was drizzly but there were two Killdeers near to where the PiPl exclosure is located. I sat in my car watching the adult Killdeers when to my delight and amazement, out tumbled four teeny chicks from under Mama Killdeer. A car makes the perfect blind and for quite some time I photographed and filmed the Killdeer family.
Off and on during that rainy day I stopped by to check on the Killdeers. Because of the weather, the parking lot was virtually empty. Tiny tufted black, brown, and white feather balls atop overly long spindly legs, the baby birds spent all their time zooming here and there, foraging on itsy bitty insects in the grass and gravel.
When not foraging, they would run under Mom or Dad to warm up on that damp drizzly day. Just like Piping Plover chicks, Killdeer chicks are precocial birds and can feed themselves within hours after hatching however, because they are so tiny, they lose body heat relatively quickly. The chicks need the warmth provided by snuggling under Mom and Dad.
The next morning it was still drizzling, and the Killdeer family was still in the same location! I watched them for a bit, when a man showed up with his dog. The Killdeer parents went into high alert and did their best distraction displays. The dog chased the adult Killdeers around the parking lot while I spoke with the man. It is the same man who brings his dog to Good Harbor Beach via the footbridge end at the close of the day, after the lifeguards and dog officers have left. This was a tremendous problem last year after the Piping Plovers hatched. Last summer I was too busy preventing his dog from squashing a PiPl chick to get his license plate number, but not this time. The man and his dog left the parking lot.
Moving to the marsh
Shortly after the dog encounter, both Killdeer parents led the chicks into the marsh. To see the chicks navigate over the incline at the edge of the marsh was amazing; it must have seemed like fording a mountain to them. I’ve looked but have not seen the family since. I am hoping that they are thriving and growing in the marshland.
We don’t hear as much about Killdeer Plovers because they are not an endangered species. Killdeers are found in every state of the continental US, Alaska, Canada, Mexico, Central and South America. They are the least shorebird-like of shorebirds because they breed and dwell in many types of habitats including grasslands, fields, urban areas, gravel pits, airports, parking lots, athletic fields, and golf courses. Despite their super ability to adapt to human habitats, it is a species in decline.
Killdeers begin courting in our area in March. Although I imagine they have been nesting at Good Harbor Beach for a longer period of time, I only have a record of Killdeers nesting at GHB going back three years and it is yet another important reason as to why humans and pets should not be traipsing through the dunes.
It is difficult to tell the difference between a male and female Killdeer unless they are side-by-side, and even then, still challenging. The male is a bit larger.
Pictured above are the beautiful mottled eggs of a different species of plover, the Killdeer. Notice how the Killdeer eggs look similar to the PiPl eggs, but are a deeper gray. Killdeers make their nest scrapes on the ground, just as do PiPl, but in gravel and soil, and the darker colored eggs are perfectly camouflaged amidst the sticks and stones. Conversely, Piping Plover eggs are beautifully camouflaged when laid in sandy nest scrapes.
Stay tuned for wonderful news about our Good Harbor Beach Killdeer Family.