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Keeping you awake: “kill-dee, Kill-dee”

A piercing, clear, two-syllable call rings through the crisp morning air like a trumpet summons for spring. Looking up, you see long, pointed, white wings flashing in the early light of dawn. As the bird moves steadily across the intense blue sky, you hear its evocative call and feel as though you have been transported to a different time and place, where stress is forgotten for a brief moment. Soon, the bird is out of sight, but the memory will stay with you throughout the day. You have seen the yearís first Killdeer.The Killdeer is an interesting bird and a common resident in the Falcon and Peyton area. Its back is a pretty brown, while its underside is pure white, with two snappy black bands circling its chest. One of the most distinctive features of its plumage is the strong orange-rust tail, which is easily seen when the bird takes flight. It is named after its very distinctive call, which can not be mistaken for anything else.The strident ìkill-dee, kill-deeî will at times continue until late in the night, as the Killdeer flies around in the night air, a habit which may seem rather irksome to humans who are attempting to sleep with the windows open. Though part of the shore-bird family, the members of which are usually found near water, the Killdeer seems to have no apparent need for water, and, while it does enjoy wading and feeding on the edges of ponds and lakes, it can also be found nesting and running around on its long legs a considerable distance from the water.Perhaps the Killdeerís most endearing trait is the femaleís concern for the safety of her eggs and her young. Since she nests in a hollow scrape on the ground, her offspring are easy prey. Thus, she has some rather unusual tricks for diverting the intruderís attention. George Gladden, in the 1936 book ìBirds of Americaî describes this behavior quite well: ìThe Killdeer is especially solicitous about its eggs or young. When the incubating bird is flushed from her nest, she resorts to all of the tactics of the ground-building birds, fluttering away with one or both wing dragging as if broken, sometimes almost rolling over, often stopping to gasp and pant as if totally exhausted, and keeping up meanwhile an incessant screaming. In the meantime the male bird circles around at a safe distance, adding his protests and denunciation, and the two continue the uproar until the intruder has withdrawn.îIt is a convincing performance, intended to make the predator forget entirely about chicks or young and focus on the mother, who appears to be a very easy meal. Thus, she draws the predator farther and farther away, until she deems it is a safe distance from her young, upon which she takes flight, leaving behind a baffled, frustrated and still-hungry predator.The Killdeer should be welcomed by all, for it is a beneficial bird, which consumes large quantities of harmful insects. I hope that you have the pleasure of making their acquaintance.

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