Hello! Most of my posts take place around San Diego County, (Mostly Lake Murray) unless otherwise noted.
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Friday, June 18, 2010

Sign of the end of killdeer breeding season?

Female killdeer stretching her wings

When I last visited the lake, I originally found what I thought was three or four killdeer in one area of M2's territory. I wasn't expecting (or hoping) to find any killdeer at all because M2 should have been attending to a nest in his nesting area. But, something must have happened to that nest. Three of the killdeer looked like M2, M3 and possibly M5, whom I've also seen fighting over females elsewhere. I spotted an unknown female with those three, but it could be F2, Little Male's "stolen" mate.

3 male killdeer and one female on the left

When I walked ahead, I found another female, F1 (M3's mate) getting harassed and pecked by the grackles trying to eat the duck food someone had left.

F1 (M3's mate)?

The males were making various gestures towards each other such as dipping and tail flashing. I've noticed that if a male turned his back and dipped, he was basically left alone. However, if he turned toward another male and dipped, he risked being attacked, especially if he flashed his orange tail feathers at the other male. There was also a lot of calling, trilling, and angry trill-calls, probably from M2. It almost sounded like roosters arguing.

The females just walked around, preening and feeding, ducking the grackles who flew right over their heads, almost hitting them.

On the other side of the peninsula and the lake parking lot, F3 and Little Male were all alone. F3 showed almost no fear of me and pretty much let me walk up to her without getting upset.

F3 being dominant and unfraid

However, Little Male was acting like a big baby, acting very submissive and hiding. Even when I had walked very far away, he still flatted himself and trilled. F3 came up to him, seeming to comfort him, but it still took him a while to stop. I've seen males act this way around females while in their feeding areas, but he was really going all out. But, that's his personality, he always over-acts. This may be due to his young age.

M1 (Little Male) being submissive and calling

M4 was all alone, but again losing his voice. I spotted M7 guarding his area, too.

When I came back, I wanted to make sure none of the killdeer had gotten hurt or killed by any grackles because a couple of them were getting pecked at earlier. All the grackles were over in Little Male's territory and he was all alone, trilling as I walked by. But, they didn't seem to be bothering him.

In M2's territory, all was very, very quiet. It was kinda nice, not a grackle in sight. I thought it was because there were fewer people or because the food was gone. Not even the phoebes were flying around. The killdeer were there, this time there were six of them because F3 had joined them, but they were totally quiet. A couple of the females foraged, but most of them were very quiet and very still. This wasn't unusual as it's often their way of hiding from predators. They totally blend into the environment this way.

As I was beginning to leave the area, I saw a cooper's hawk fly to the trees. A killdeer screamed at almost the same time it flew over, but I thought it was because someone's child scared it away. This could have been a fatal mistake if it was ten seconds earlier as cooper's hawks often hunt by causing panic to a flock of birds to get them to fly off into the air where they can get snagged. But, this hawk wasn't hunting the killdeer, it flew over closer to where the grackles were hanging around. I don't think it had a target that time, just checking out the area for possible prey and hunting strategy. So, the male that flew off (I think it was M3 going back to his territory), was safe that time. All the other killdeer continued to stay very quiet and still. Let's hope that none of my killdeer friends make this mistake again.

I had a feeling that the abundance of grackles in the area might attract bird hawks. But, one thing about hawks, you know they're hunters and the killdeer and phoebes know they're hunters, so they're not going to let their guards down when they know they're around.

I'm wondering if this sudden gathering of all the neighboring killdeer signals the end of the breeding season. The males were still displaying to each other, though, so this may be a way to "regroup" and select new mates and territories. Little Male didn't seem to want any part of being in this group. I think it may have to do with him picking fights with two of the males and getting that bruise on his chest. Like I've said before, he's very young and perhaps three older males together seem too intimidating to him.

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