Spring is certainly coming. I heard my first killdeer at Middle Creek last Sunday.
Though I’ve read that a few killdeer stay in Pennsylvania all winter I only see them when they make their first push into Pennsylvania in the last week of February and first of March. Killdeer come north early because they nest relatively early — as early as April 11.
Like peregrine falcons killdeer will nest in gravel but unlike peregrines they choose open, level places rather than cliffs. This makes sense because killdeer babies walk away from the nest as soon as they hatch even though they can’t fly yet. Peregrine babies can’t — and won’t — leave the nest until they’re able to fly.
Killdeer nests are typically in fields, pastures, golf courses and gravel parking lots. Sometimes they line the nest with pieces of grass, wood chips or pebbles. Look closely in Chuck Tague’s photo above and you’ll see eggs below the bird. She’s nesting in a grassy place littered with old wood chips and leaves.
Whether it’s in a grassy field or a gravel parking lot, the eggs are always laid in a shallow depression so they don’t roll away. As added insurance, the killdeer arranges them with the points inward as you can see in Tim Vechter’s photo below. Notice how the eggs are camouflaged. Pretty sneaky!
If you want to see a killdeer’s nest, visit the beach parking lot at Keystone State Park in late April or early May. As soon as you pull into the lot you’ll see orange traffic cones blocking off some of the parking spaces. The cones are protecting killdeer nests.
If you get too close the birds will shout at you.
(killdeer photo by Chuck Tague, nest photo by Tim Vechter)