Nesting Killdeer at South March
June 4th, 2012
In the east part of South March Conservation Forest is a large beaver pond
called Heron Pond. At its north shore is some of the most unique geology I've
seen in Ottawa: a vast sandstone barren, dotted with short pine trees, and
encrusted with a rich variety of mosses, lichens, grasses and wildflowers.
It's been said that the plain dates back to the Paleozoic era. I've seen a
pair of nighthawks
courting above it: the male flying close to the female, then diving straight
down and veering up suddenly with a *whoosh* of his wings (you can hear it
from a distance.) Nighthawks are a species in decline and considered At Risk
in Canada, and I find this rather significant as that part of the forest is
not conservation area: it's owned by a developer and could be lost in the
Another species I've found breeding on the sandstone plain--though I doubt any
conservationists will take interest is this one--is Killdeer
Killdeer are the most successful plovers in North America, and that's because
they're so at ease with the changes humans make to the environment. I've seen
them in farmland, equestrian parks, on manicured lawns and in parking lots,
but this was the first time I'd seen breeding killdeer in an utterly wild,
natural environment...and there was something enchanting about that.
Because killdeer nest on open ground, their eggs and young are vulnerable. So
they've evolved means to distract predators away from the nest, generally by
acting helpless. If the predator thinks it can easily catch the adult, why
bother with the young? It's easy to feel like a louse while pursuing a
killdeer for a photo: they cry so pitiably. They sound like they're in such
deep distress. One tries to remember that the deep distress is an act. Real
distress would be if you got close to their nest--and as long as you follow
where they lead, that's sure not to happen.
The crown jewel of the repertoire is the famous broken wing display. The
parent killdeer sits down, fans its eye-catching orange tail, sticks its wings
out at odd angles, and flops around like a poor, pathetic fish out of water.