Last Saturday I participated in the Charlotte Spring Bird Count, a census of the breeding birds and migrants in our area that day. During the course of the day I was able to observe several instances of nesting behaviors from several different species.
While I was tromping through some weedy field edge, a small bird flushed right from my feet and flew only a short distance. Retracing my steps, I found a small, perfect straw cup hidden in a clump of broomsedge. It was a field sparrow nest containing four blue-and-purple speckled eggs. As I backed away the adult cautiously returned to the nest and continued incubating.
Later I watched a chipping sparrow gathering some dried grass clippings and carrying them into a small red-tip shrub. Inspection revealed another tiny cup with two eggs this time, brighter blue with less speckles than the field sparrow. I was surprised the bird was still constructing the nest when egg-laying had already begun.
In the same area, my attention was drawn to a larger bird with black neck bands running ahead of me, occasionally dropping and dragging a wing as if injured. I recognized this as a defense ploy by the adult, a killdeer.
The killdeer is a nesting member of the plover family. The adults try to lure perceived threats away from their nests by feigning injury. I knew a nest with eggs or very young birds was nearby, so I backed off a good distance and watched. Eventually the bird returned to a landscaped berm not 4 feet from a well-traveled pathway and sat down on four perfectly camouflaged eggs in a small depression in the ground. Killdeer are so confident in their ability to lure predators away from the nest and in the camouflage design of their eggs that they often will nest near high-use pathways and sidewalks. They must be pretty successful, because killdeer are common birds.
Take some time to watch for breeding behaviors in your yard or during walks now, I predict you will see nest-material gathering, adults carrying food, or even fledged young already. It’s an active time of year for our area birds.
Taylor Piephoff is a local naturalist with an interest in the birds and wildlife of the southern Piedmont: PiephoffT@aol.com.
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