Thursday, March 28, 2013

Phenology: Plover (Killdeer?)--Update, with Pictures

Yesterday I walked home by a different, longer route than I usually take, and so I passed by the Presbyterian church, and on their front lawn I saw a plover. Didn't get close enough to count the rings on its neck, and it wasn't giving the call that early Americans heard as inviting hunters to grassland where they could lure and "Kill! Deer!" (Or some hear it as "Deer! Here!") But it was probably the species known as a killdeer. Most plovers in this part of the world are.

Plovers are some of the cutest ground-nesting birds on Earth. Although they can fly high and far (some routinely fly thousands of miles in spring and fall), nesting plovers don't fly; they scuttle along the ground like sandpipers (they're built like large sandpipers) and call to predators to follow them. Whether they think it out in words or not, the message seems to be "I'm bigger, more worth your trouble, and I'm injured and vulnerable. Eat me and leave my babies alone." The plover parents are of course gambling that they will be able to fly away from the predator if they have to, after luring the predator out of sight of the nest. Usually they can do this. Sometimes they can't.

Plovers nest and feed in clear grassy areas, away from trees, so Cat Sanctuary cats never have to be kept indoors to protect nesting plovers. But if you see a brownish bird that looks like either a large sandpiper or a long-legged pigeon, running a few yards ahead of you and uttering plaintive "peep, peep" calls, you have found a plover, and its nest is probably not far away. Time to confine the cats. In exchange you'll be able to watch (from a distance) as the plovers rear their young, and will know when it's safe to let the cats out again.

UPDATE: Feh. In five minutes it's possible to tell you that I saw a plover, but not in a way that's likely to be useful to anyone who doesn't live within a mile of the Presbyterian church in Gate City, Virginia. Can this post be made a little more informative, thanks to modern technology? Specifically, can we get a more precise image of the plover family than "large sandpiper or long-legged pigeon"?

I like the Wikipedia page because the photo of the killdeer is at the top, with other plovers below:

Here's the AllAboutBirds page for the killdeer:

And a few more pages about other plovers:

On the coast of New England, protecting the Piping Plover, which is very unlikely to stray as far inland as Gate City, is a serious concern. Definitely bring the cats inside if anyone in your neighborhood has seen a Piping Plover.

Since the Cat Sanctuary is a good three miles from the Presbyterian church, the Cat Sanctuary cats are still roaming freely. This may change, as the weather warms up, if anybody notices a Ruffed Grouse in the woods.

And yes, Morguefile has a nice clear image--a painting not a photo--for the killdeer:

And a photo of a typical killdeer's nest: