killdeerbabiesIf you’ve been following along, you know that we have a killdeer pair nesting in my garlic bed. Most birds will lay one egg a day, and I happened to find the nest on the day the first egg was laid, on May 21st. That means that the last egg (there are 4) was laid on May 24th. Which means this particular killdeer has a 25 day incubation period. (It can range from 24 to 28 days). I know this because they hatched TODAY. Well, three were hatched this morning. Hopefully the other egg will still hatch.

Killdeer babies are precocial. (Did adults call you precocial when you were a little? I heard it a lot. I didn’t have any kids my own age to play with, and so was always around adults. My vocabulary was huge for a 5 year old. But didn’t really understand what precocial meant until I ran across the term in a biology class many years later). Precocial means that the young are relatively mature at birth and quickly mobile. For example, hares (think jackrabbits) are precocial. Their babies are born with hair, and eyes open. Rabbits, on the other hand, are altricial, born naked with eyes closed. Most song birds are altricial. Many ground nesting birds, like turkey, quail, geese and ducks, are precocial. Which is a good thing if you are on the ground because you are so vulnerable to predators.

So I’m not expecting these guys to hang around the nest site for long. I was lucky to have captured this moment. But since their primary diet is insects, they are welcome to stay as long as they like.

One of the things that killdeer are known for is their “broken wing” display. When something is threatening the nest, they will fly a short distance away, and then pretend to be injured, luring the threat away from the nest. These two have been doing this every time I ventured into the garden for the last three weeks. They were off the nest so much that I was worried they wouldn’t actually be able to hatch out their eggs. But they did! Turns out (according to The Birder’s Handbook – and the internet) both the male and female incubate the eggs, and the male is usually the one on the nest at night. How cool is that?

By the way, if you have anyone in your family interested in the life history of birds, and not just checking them off on a list, the Birder’s Handbook is a MUST HAVE book. It tells you everything that a regular field guide doesn’t tell you, like what type of nest a bird builds, how many eggs it lays, how long they incubate, what the bird eats, mating displays etc. and has lots of great short essays about birds. And for 785 pages, the price is a steal at less than $20.

The author, Paul R. Ehrlich, isn’t an ornithologist. He’s a population biologist with a background in ecology and entomology. He’s famous for the book Population Bomb, published in 1968, which made dire warnings about overpopulation and limited resources. But at some point, Ehrlich wanted to know something about a particular bird’s life history, and had a hard time finding the information, and couldn’t believe that a book like The Birder’s Handbook didn’t exist. So he wrote it. And pretty much every ornithologist in the world bought a copy. Pretty great trick, that.

Miles Away Farm Blog © 2013, where we’re still trying to find our niche book, that when published, will be on everyone’s bookshelf and make us independently wealthy. In the meantime, we’ll just keep showing up at farmer’s markets and picking peas.

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