Hello! Most of my posts take place around San Diego County, (Mostly Lake Murray) unless otherwise noted.
For more posts and photos, I also post on Hubpages, a site that is a bit different than others. Thanks!: Shorebirdie on Hubpages

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

I caught "Little Male" in the act!

The day started out normally. M2 was not in his territory, hopefully helping F3 with the nest over near the northern area of Mission Trails Park where "Little Male" was possibly born. M4 was doing well and got most of his voice back. But, things got strange after that.

I found a new "couple" of killdeer on one of the baseball fields and, boy, were they acting strange towards some squirrels. I will talk more about that in another post.

When I was going back to my car, I hear a killdeer doing his annoying yell and assumed it was Little Male complaining that I was walking by. But, then, I heard the strange call that I hear when males were fighting each other. I looked over and I saw one killdeer on the back of another, but couldn't get the photo as the one on the bottom was very nervous and walked to where he/she wouldn't be seen. The one on top did a bob-dip courtship dance, but I don't think it was answered.

At first, I thought I was seeing M2 fighting with Little Male and this was a way to enforce dominance on the other one. The one on top was way too calm to be little male and the other was way too nervous to be a female. But, after consulting my photos, I have found that they were actually Little Male and a very pretty female with a smooth breast band.

Little Male is in front, the female in the background

The female tried to keep me from getting a good look at her, but didn't totally hide. Little Male began kneeling down and flashing his red-tail at me in a more "friendly" distraction manner. I don't think he was trying to pick a fight, but trying to get me to leave her alone and pay attention to him.

"Look at me! Not at her!"

I sat down and watched and Little Male pretty much walked right up to me, gave me a dirty look, and flew way over to his nesting area, actually overshooting it. I think he wanted me to follow and not his mate as he was way out of the area that he normally goes to. The female didn't follow, but neither did I. I was able to get a few good photos of her, alone, before I left.

"Thanks for spoiling the fun!"

I don't think I've ever seen this pretty lady before.

While I was in M2's territory, I heard a killdeer call and though it was M2 hiding, but I think it was actually Little Male looking for his mate.

Hopefully, the female can hold off laying eggs for another five days until after the fourth of July. There's a high likelihood that any nest will be crushed by people wanting to see the fireworks if it's laid before then. I think F3 didn't lay her eggs for at least a week, so it will be OK if this female decides to lay her eggs in his territory.

Look what I saw yesterday.

American avocet chicks in plain view. They're a kind of shorebird that behave, in many ways, like killdeer.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Killdeers incognito, lots of ducklings!

The killdeers seem to be missing lately at the lake. When I arrived, M2 was not in his territory, but he has been really good at disappearing even when he's actually there. He stays very quiet and stands very still. Sometimes he loses his nerves and calls out, but only if you get really close or if you are walking a dog.

Little Male was a lot calmer today as there were no other killdeers in his territory. No sign of anyone in the M8 territory, though I did see and hear a killdeer flying over that area from the north and the main part of Mission Trails Park where there were several killdeer hatched earlier that year. I think the killdeer was M2 as he headed back towards his territory. Perhaps F3 is over in that area hatching more chicks. M2 was back in his "home" when I left.

In the M4 territory, I heard a very weak raspy call that might have been M4 himself, but I saw no sign of him. He, too, has learned the "stay still and quiet and they won't notice me" trick that M2 has nearly mastered (not that M4 could really make much noise, anyway). I assume he's well as I saw no killdeer bodies in that area.

More ducklings, including one that went over from his hatching area all the way across the lake on his own with fish jumping up all around him. A friendly female (probably another female that is expecting her own brood or had just lost a brood) tried to coax him back, but he was afraid of her and kept running the wrong way. The friendly female stayed with him until he reached the other side. After a few minutes, mom began calling him from across the lake. She called for over a half hour before she was reunited. Then, she proceeded to give the little duckling a "lecture" on the sound of her voice and staying by her side.

Now, you have to stay close and not go far away like you did.

The other small ducklings are doing fine, none have been eaten yet. I did see a four-five week old duckling getting some feed from the people who feed the ducks in that area. I think he was one that hatched around the beginning of June who almost got trampled on by him mom who was being chased around by a drake the day he was hatched. I saw him at 10 days old, but haven't seen him for a while.

I'm a big duck now, even though I don't really have my wings yet.

I think I saw some other almost grown ducklings today, too, perhaps the drama ducklings that I "saved" over a month ago.

The three "fish food" ducklings are three weeks old now and are growing fast! I wish they weren't attacked so much by the coots. But, no harm seems to be done.

The coots like to chase us, but we're gonna get them back when we're bigger!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Little Male very nervous and more on the ducklings

M2 was spending time in Little Male's territory. He looks a lot like Little Male and I wonder if they're related, perhaps M2 is an older brother or even his father. But, one way that I can tell the difference is that M2 has gotten so extremely calm and doesn't yell hardly at all. He has seemed to learn that if he's quiet and still, no one will bother him.

M2 spending time in Little Male's feeding area. I don't know what that object is on the right. I thought it was a corn cob, but it may be the top of a plant. The lake is low now and all kinds of things float up.

Little Male was being totally uncooperative with getting his picture taken. He started screaming way before I could see him and wouldn't let me get anywhere near. He was extremely nervous, probably because of another killdeer being nearby. I think he had a bad fight experience and ever since then, he has been terrible with his nervousness and screaming. I would think he would be used to people right now as he spends a lot of time in a very busy area. He screamed so much that M2 came over an answered his call. M2 didn't do a fight call, but another chirp-beep in answer to Little Male's call. He landed nearby and Little Male flew near him. I wondered if a fight was going to take place, but a nearby crow decided he had enough of the screaming and chased M1 away to the other side of the bay. Over there, people were walking around and he began screaming at them, too.

Little Male wants me to stay far, far away. He won't let me take his picture from the front.

M2, who was being quiet, was completely ignored by the crow.

M8 could be heard and not seen, I didn't feel like chasing him. Another killdeer was hanging out on one of the baseball fields, which was being mowed. Whatever killdeer that was over there was pretty upset about that lawnmower. M4's voice is very raspy, but he has actually gotten calmer. He lets me approach him pretty close now. No sign of any females, but females can be very quiet and you can pass by them without knowing they're there sometimes. You have to watch the males to see if they act more nervous than normal.

The ducklings that almost became hawk food have made it to four days old. They've doubled in size, but are very tiny, still. A fish nibbled on them and they ran straight to mama. But, still, they go off on their own and disobey mom, so they have a high chance of being eaten by a fish. Luckily, they get fed by people near the shore where they're at, so they don't have to cross the water to get food.

The "Hawk Food" ducklings, four day old

The other three older ducklings that were almost fish food were not seen, but are probably OK. They are three weeks old now and usually when they get to that age, they're chances of making it to being full grown are pretty good..

Lots of baby coots all over, too. A large bird, either a dark colored eagle or a vulture, was picking off the really young babies in nests on top of the fallen reeds. But, a lot of them have made it to almost full-grown status.

A baby coot, almost fully grown. Are they called chicks or cooties?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Weird Killdeer Photo

I thought this photo was kinda neat, sorry it's not crystal clear. This is M4 and it looks like he's about to pop his head off, ha ha. I've seen chicks do weird things with their necks, which seem to be multi-jointed, but never and adult. No wonder why he's losing his voice when he does things like this with his neck.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Killdeer news, more babies on the lake

When I arrived, I didn't see M2 or his girlfriend, F3 anywhere, which isn't unusual. I was hoping that they were attending a nest.

I visited the M8 territory to see if I could find any chicks that I might have heard running around and making little killdeer chirps. But, I didn't find any. Instead, I found M8 fighting with a strange male and female that I don't think I've ever seen before. Also, it looked like Mrs. Deet was there, too. When the intruding couple flew off, Mrs. Deet stayed with M8.

Mrs. Deet?

M8, he sure is hard to take a photo of.

The intruding male and female

The intruding female seems rather large, perhaps she's trying to find a safe spot to lay eggs.

I wonder if all this fighting over territory is one last chance of having a brood before the end of breeding season before the ones from the north return to the area.

On the way to M4's territory, I hear a coot screaming in alarm and saw a big, black bird leaving. I think it had a nestling coot, but I couldn't be sure. The bird was huge, possibly a turkey vulture. It's rare for vultures to eat live food, but I found out that they do take nestlings and weak birds once in a while. Mostly, they just don't like to chase down their food, so they take anything that can't run away fast or fight back.

Near some fisherman, I found the 16-17 day old ducklings and their mom. The fisherman said that they were next to be eaten, but they've already beaten a lot of odds and I am pulling for them. They also said that the black bird got a duckling, but the only thing that was around here were grebes, coots, and the three ducklings that seemed fine. I think the mother duck was a little worried and moved them away. I just hope the fisherman cleaned up their fishing line as it was all over the place and the ducks were really close to them.

I found a new family of ducklings, just two. The two little ones were not being obedient to mom and kept getting separated. Mom wasn't attentive enough for them.

M4 had a visitor in his territory that looked suspiciously like M2, who was chased off and headed back toward his own area. M4's voice is still raspy, but doing OK. Around his territory, the grass has been cut short in preparation for the fireworks.

As I was leaving the M4 territory, I heard a red-tail hawk call and fly over. A minute later, a mother duck (sounded like it was coming in the direction of the female with the day old ducklings) screaming her head off and I was sure that one of her ducklings was now a meal.

But, when I walked on, I saw the hawk being chased off by three or four swallows and it's talons looked empty.

But, at first, all I saw was one duckling.

Then, the second one popped up. All was well for the time being.

I didn't see the older ducklings and hope that one of them didn't get caught by the hawk. I didn't have my binoculars, but I thought I saw the mom and at least two of them hiding under some reeds far away.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Lake Update

I visited Lake Murray while it was still pretty dark, so my photos didn't come out exactly as I planned. But, it seems that the killdeer have dispersed back to their own territories.

M2 was all alone. I took a couple of photos of him using flash and I think I dazed him. But, he seemed fine after a moment and continued eating the flies along the shore. The flash made his eye turn white.

Little Male is doing OK, but still a little high strung. I don't think he knows how to use his signals correctly and gets them mixed up.

M4 is fine, he has part of his voice back, but still pretty raspy.

The last I saw these three ducklings, they were just about to be fish food. But, they're two weeks old now and getting big.

I found this male in M8's territory. I've never seen him before. Like M4, he has a lot of pale and/or white feathers on one side of his body. I'm still taking this to possibly mean that he might be an older killdeer, but it could just be a variation in killdeer feather colors. Sorry the photo is fuzzy, he didn't give me many chances to get a good one.

I swore I heard a killdeer in this area, but thought my ears were playing tricks on me. This time, I checked and there he was. I also thought I heard the sounds of killdeer chicks squeaking and scrumbling under some nearby brush, but I didn't search them out. This male didn't do a broken wing act or anything else that would indicate that there was a nest or chicks are nearby, so it might have been a mouse or squirrel making that noise. That kind of response is probably automatic with killdeer and I don't know if they can totally control it. However, this killdeer may have been so habituated to people that he had learned that just flying away was enough to get humans to leave the area.

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.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Killdeer Update, M2 and F3 "missing"

M1, Little Male, in an area where seed is given to the doves. M1's sore on the front of his chest has healed.

I couldn't find any sign of M2 or his mate today. At one time, I thought I heard an alarm and territorial call from him when M1 was forced to cross the lake by someone walking their dog. But, I think it might have been my ears playing trick with me. I didn't see him when I got to the lake and I didn't see him when I came back. I haven't heard or seen of any headless bird bodies, so it's unlikely that the grackles got him. The grackles have actually been behaving reasonably well towards the other birds (and people) so far. So, it's very likely that M2 is in his nesting area with his mate and eggs.

I've noticed that killdeers have two parts to their territories: a feeding area (where they are most of the time) and a nesting area that is usually within sight of their feeding territory. This may be an adaptation to living with "smart" predators like crows, grackles, and ravens who watch the habits of the birds whose babies or eggs they eat. The males spend most of their time in their feeding area, only visiting their nesting area once in a while to "show" the nesting site to a prospective mate and to check on it's current safety level. After the chicks hatch, they may or may not bring them to the feeding area depending on how safe the parents feel that area is. That is probably why killdeer families "disappear" after the first day or two after they hatch. The family is brought to a "feeding area".

I still have not found where M2's nesting area is. It's undoubtedly within sight of his territory, but that could me a mile away on the other side of the lake. I am hoping that by the time the chicks are a day old, most of the grackles will be done nesting and be out of the area or in fewer numbers. But, it appears that some of the grackles are building new nests, including a pair in M4's area. However, I think that pair may disperse when the ravens decide to return to the area. Grackles do hang out with other blackbirds, but I don't think they like ravens and crows, especially when they're outnumbered. If I start seeing F3, M2's mate, more frequently in the future, I am going to assume that their nest was a failure.

Speaking of M4, I don't exactly know where his nesting area is, but I have a suspicion that it's in the area with the grackles. If the grackle number stays low (1-4 individuals), the killdeer may be OK and not be bothered. But, I think it's more likely that the nesting area is in M7's area as M4 is constantly "watching" that area and fighting off other males who try to take residence there.

Today, M4's voice was nearly gone. He could hardly call above a whisper. He seemed very nervous while I was there and was having such a hard time with his voice that I thought I should leave so that he could get his voice back. No sign of "Bo" anywhere.

I thought I heard a killdeer in the M8 area today doing an alarm call. It's hard to tell because there's so many finches and phoebes making a lot of noise that it was hard to tell. I didn't go and check it out. Chances are that it's the "Deets", but it could be M2 as the "Deets" showed up in this area last time M2 was missing (though the "Deets" looked and acted like totally different killdeer, maybe they could actually be M2 and F3 all puffed up or something). Killdeer behavior does change when they are in their breeding areas, mostly with more nervousness and defensiveness.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Grackles and Killdeer Chicks

Great tailed grackle in tree

Lake Murray has a large population of great-tailed grackles. They have pretty much taken over the lake and are heavily concentrated in M2's territory. That could be why M2 and his gal have been fighting with Little Male over the south side of the territory--to find a safe place for their chicks. But, Little Male won't give up his feeding grounds that easily. Also, it's not all that safe, grackles sometimes go there along with a few crows and small raptors.

So far, I haven't seen any really bad behavior on behalf of the grackles except for one time when they tried to steal food out of M2's mouth. I think he gave the grackle a sharp peck with his beak, but otherwise seemed unworried about the big black bird, who backed off. It's possible that the grackle didn't get more aggressive because I was there, or it felt like it wasn't worth it. But, M2 seemed pretty much unconcerned about the bird. I have heard about grackles killing an adult killdeer, but I haven't seen any real aggression between the two species yet. (I did see a grackle aggressively harass and peck heavily a large white-winged dove at a Borrego Springs bird feeder recently for no apparent reason).

However, I am almost 100% positive that the grackles will eat any of the killdeer chicks that might be running around that area. While I do think the killdeer could defend itself pretty good if it was alert and ready for a grackle attack, I fear that the grackle will actually kill a parent to get to a chick.

So far, I haven't seen any harm come to ducklings as they are mostly ignored by the grackles. I don't think the mother ducks like them and that could be why they moved them out of that area quickly. The family of five used to hang out near the grackle nesting area when the ducklings were very young until the grackle chicks started to fledge.

M2 avoids being near the grackle nesting area, now very busy with fledging chicks. He used to go over to that area a lot, but has since stayed away as about a dozen of them are nesting in the trees there. Hopefully, the grackles won't be territorial when it comes to their fledgelings and my fears of one of them killing M2 or his mate may come true.

I am sure that F3, M2's mate, has already laid her eggs (they mated a week ago), but perhaps in another male's territory. M2 was calling her last time I saw him, but there was no sign of her. M1 has a "safer" area to nest in but people walk around that area and sometimes a hawk comes by. M4 has ravens firmly established in part of his territory. I haven't seen M8 in a while. M6 and M7 may have safe nesting spots, but I have seen no breeding activity in those areas except for the fights over a female.

It would seem that only M3 and M5 (the ones living in a fenced off area near the treatment plant) have the safest nesting area with few grackles, hawks, crows or ravens. But, I can't see them, so it looks like I won't be able to see or photograph any killdeer chicks at the lake this year or even the next few years if the grackle population stays high.

Strangely, there have been few true large blackbirds at Lake Murray recently. They used to be extremely common there until recently.

So, will the rise of the grackles mean the demise of the killdeer or other birds in the area?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Lake Update, night heron, killdeer and more ducklings

I just wanted to give a general update as to what has been going on at the lake in regards to the killdeers and other animals.

First of all, we have a night heron around near the main entrance stalking the squirrels. There are a ton of squirrels there, but a lot of people are upset because a lot of the animals near the parking lot are often thought of as some people's personal pets. They are fed and sometimes handled regularly. I am a bit bothered because they will eat killdeer chicks, though there aren't any around right now.

And, there is a new duckling in the neighborhood, about four or five days old and the heron is nearby. The heron sits at a squirrel burrow opening and waits for the squirrel to come out. I fear that he will do that with a duckling's hiding place, especially since ducklings don't know what to be afraid of and run right into the heron's mouth.

But, he's made it four or five days so far and the heron has been around that time, too. And, he has his mom around to protect him.

The killdeers are doing great. M2 is in his own territory, calling for his mate, whom I didn't see. But, females are basically allowed to go anywhere they want and she may just be feeding someplace else. I can't imagine that she can put off laying those eggs any longer. I wonder if killdeer can delay egg laying like some other birds can. Well, I'll find out. But, then again, she may just go and sneak some eggs into other female birds' nests. I've heard of that happening with killdeer, but it's rarely observed.

M1 ("Little Male") was originally on the south side beach when I found him. He has figured out that if he goes near the picnic tables, away from the shore, that it's harder for people to see him, so he's been hanging out there. It really is harder to see him there, though. He went over to where two men where feeding the duckling, ducks, and pigeons after they left to get some of the seed that was left. But, he got annoyed by some people and went over to his north side. I think that's when M2 sneaked over to his territory (probably because his mate was hiding over there) as I didn't see him when I left.

M4 and his mate (I can't remember what number she is, but I'll call her Bo) were doing just fine and I actually saw the two together. At first, M4 was agitated while his mate didn't seem to mind. He did his hiding thing, but he also did a gesture that I'm finding pretty common with killdeer and I don't know what it means.

What I've seen M4 and other killdeer, mostly males, do is turn his back towards me, stick his tail way up in the air and his head way down the ground, exposing his white belly. He doesn't spread or flash his tail feathers at all. I don't know if it's a trick to hide, or a white flag of surrender telling me that he's not going to fight and he wants me to go away. I know that when killdeers make threats, they generally flash the tail at the intruder, stick their tail up in the air while facing the intruder. Every time he would bow down and face towards me, he would quickly turn his back. If I don't respond, he will look back to see if I'm looking, or flatten himself on the ground. Usually, at the same time, he gives a loud trill.

M4 starting to "dip" Eventually, his whole front end will be on the ground with just his tail in the air

Eventually, he calmed down and decided I was not much of a threat and pretty much walked right up to me. I even saw him go over to the water and drink and eat a bug, which I've never seen him do. He, then, got annoyed at me and went somewhere else.

M4 getting annoyed, and calling before leaving

"Bo" running

"Bo" thinking of leaving She looks like she might have gotten into some fights, too.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Get out of my territory!

F3 being very friendly

Killdeer are about the same size as the mourning doves

M2 is making sure everything is safe

Today, I found M2 and his mate foraging in the southern part of M1's territory. He's been having a dispute with M1 over who should own this area. Today, they were eating birdseed with the doves and also feasting on the ants in the area. While observing those two, I noticed that "Little Male", M1 was sneaking up behind us.

I see you guys over there and I'm not going to tolerate this much more! (note the dark spot on his chest, it could be from fighting)

You better leave or I'm coming over there as soon as the humans are gone!

I left the area a few minutes later and within 10 minutes, I could hear the sound of two males arguing with their "kill-dee" sounds. But, M2 didn't leave just then. However, eventually, M1 won the fight and M2 was forced back into his territory without his mate. I guess she just wasn't finished feeding yet. I don't know if M1 and the female (F3) mated, but M2 was all alone in his territory for a long time, calling for her.

I miss my girlfriend

I've never seen or heard of an example of a "companion call" on any of the other websites. It's a lot like the alarm call, but shorter and softer. It's kinda like the difference between "beep" and "cheep" with the companion call being the "cheep" and a bit shorter. Poor guy, he seemed to be asking for my help in getting her back, walking up towards me, showing now fear. But, this is something he has got to deal with himself.

Whitening of feathers=aging?

M4 appears to be an old male in many ways, mainly through his behavior and demeanor. But, I've noticed that he has a lot more white feathers than the other adult birds. On his face, he still has much of the black that many males have, but he does have a LOT of white feathers there. Also, his tail, which should be mostly brown, black and orange has a lot of white, also. This is not normal as the tail is the way that males display threats not only to potential predators, but to other males and to court mates.

M4 has a lot of white around his eye, but still has a prominent black stripe running from his beak

Today, when I visited M4's territory, I noticed that his voice was very, very raspy. He can still do his high-pitched "kill-dee" call, but all his other calls sound like he has laryngitis. He could just be sick, but his over-all feather appearance and health appears good. He doesn't have any bare spots or feathers sticking out strangely--a sign that a bird is not healthy. His coat generally appears glossy, though not as glossy as the very young male, M1 ("Little Male").

M4's tail feathers have an abnormal amount of white and the red part is paler

The beautiful, young female in M4's territory seems to be gone and that could be why he spends much of his time flying around and doing territorial calls. It's very possible that he's in a lot of fights, but his feather condition doesn't indicate that, as well, except for a little scruffiness.

I can't really estimate M4's age as I have just met him this year, but killdeers have been known to live 10 or 11 years in the wild, but not usually. I would suspect him to be a minimum of six to seven years old, possibly eight or nine, but not beyond that. If I am correct about his senior status, this could be his last breeding season.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Stealing females and update on the ducklings

M2 was nowhere to be seen, but I could definitely hear him. I still haven't found his nest, but I know it's around and it's probably within sight of people as I hear him trilling and making frustrated calls. But, I haven't spotted it. I swear, though, I heard him calling and saw him landing in a tree! I've never heard of killdeer ever being in a tree, even for a moment. I will definitely be looking upward for him if I can't find him otherwise. This will be an interesting observation. The only reason why he might be in the tree was to keep track of "Little Male" and his own territory. But, I don't think that killdeer have the right kind of feet to hold onto a perch.

In the meantime, I see he's been harassing "Little Male" off and on, claiming part of his territory on M1's south side. M1 often can be heard calling back to him. Later, sometimes, M1 will go off and call over M2, M3 and M5s' territory probably hoping to lure females away from them. In the past, M2 would ignore M1's attempt to steal mates, but now that he has a mate of his own, he has gotten involved and has begun to chase M1 sometimes. The birds chased each other out of sight and I couldn't see the result of the fight. These things can take hours, so it's no use to wait it out.

Update on Ducklings

More ducklings are hatching and I have recently seen at least a dozen brand new ones in the last few days. However, the lake is being lowered and that has put many ducklings in risk of being snapped up by fish and turtles. So, just about all the ducklings between 10 days and 5 weeks old have been in hiding. I haven't seen the seven that I fed the cereal to since that day, but their parents are around and I assume they're hiding. I occasionally see the one duckling that hatched in M1's territory.

Today, I think I might have seen the two ducklings I call the "Drama Ducklings" because I wrote a photo essay about how one got away and got lost. They got lost two days later, but since then, their mom has been glued to their side. I haven't seen them in four days, but I thought I saw two small ducks swimming around the reeds in the "restricted area". They disappeared quickly. I went to where I could look into the reeds from across the bay and saw a small "cave" with mom and dad sitting in the front and it looked like two dark fluffballs sticking out of the reeds behind them. Mom was looking back often, either grooming herself or keeping an eye on her babies. But, I couldn't totally verify if there were really two ducklings there as there are also small coots and grebes nearby, too.

I may not get to see them again until they fill up the lake after the road repairs, which will be in about a month. It will be good to see how many survived. I want all of them to survive because they're so cute! However, that wouldn't work very well in nature. God (or nature if you prefer) has given ducks the ability to produce lots of eggs and young so that enough will survive to keep the species going, but at the same time provide food for other organisms as much as I don't like to think about it.

The "Drama Ducklings" at 10 days old, the last time I saw them

Monday, June 7, 2010

1 Female and 3 Males Fighting Over Her

I haven't seen the "Deets" in a while and no killdeer are in the M8 territory, lately. It's good because that area is going to be inundated with human activity starting today and going for over a month. But, Mr. Deet may be one of the three males I saw over in the M7 territory across from M4.

I usually don't go over to that side of the lake, but I just had to see what four killdeer could be doing in one spot.

One male passes the female in order to chase another male away

Here are all four together, the female is on the bottom left. Look at how large and puffed up the males' neckbands are.

The female watches the males battle it out. The two on the right were actually attacking each other. Unfortunately, I couldn't get a photo of the attacks

The male on the left ends up flying off, trying to land near me, then giving up and flying away.

The second male on the right in the bottom photo flew off with the other male and began calling, but when he returned the third male and the female were gone. He was so mad at me and began to yell warning calls even though it didn't bother him that I was standing there before.

M4 had a female in his territory

M4 had a female in his territory the other day. In this case, it was hard to tell which was male or female as the one that I thought was M4 was very calm and didn't mind me, which the killdeer I didn't know was going crazy, hiding, yelling, screaming. It's very possible that the one I thought was M4 and had posted about earlier was actually a regular female visitor to his territory. When I first got there, M4 began to hide.

Sorry for the blur on these photos.

You can't see me, but I've got my eye on you!

Equivalent to Bo Derek in 10 for killdeers. Hmm, looks suspiciously like the one I thought was M4 earlier

Females can be picky about who they mate with

OK, now that I'm way over here, I want to tell you to stop looking at my girlfriend! I think this is the real M4 because he is the one doing the territorial displays and the most yelling, but I could have them reversed.

This was the only killdeer I saw the next time, making territorial calls, but acting like good old Mr. Cool this time. Looks like he's been roughed up a bit.

I don't know what happened to the female after that as it's been a couple of days and I haven't seen her.