Monday, May 11, 2009

Birds of Appleton Farms: The Killdeer

Appleton Farms is a great place for birds and for birdwatching. Being an avid birder, I have of course noticed a lot of the birds that make Appleton their home or a stopping off point on the way to some other place, and I hope to write about them from time to time on this blog. The list of birds I’ve seen so far (or heard) is decent, though I haven’t yet gone out on an early morning walk focused just on birds.  I’m there early enough already, most days of the week.  But I've seen Eastern Bluebird, Cooper’s Hawk Red-tailed Hawk, Pine Warbler, American Pipit, Barred Owl (in the wooded Grass Rides), Barn Swallow, American Crow, American Goldfinch, Eastern Phoebe…that’s just a small selection.

There’s one bird that we, as farmers, have especially close contact with, and that’s the killdeer. The thing about the killdeer is that it likes to nest in the kind of habitat that looks exactly like our fields. Correction - the killdeer likes to nest in our fields. Killdeers are generally found on grassy fields, dirt fields, lawns, muddy edges of lakes or reservoirs, in general just about any open area of grass or dirt. They make surprisingly open and accessible nests by making a shallow scrape in the dirt, sometimes lined with a few rocks.  Their eggs are very inconspicuous and look just like stones.

All throughout the day we are likely to hear their distinctive, high-pitched calls, see them flying around our tractors or watch them running between crop rows and through the roughly plowed furrows. I have seen them on a couple of occasions do their famous broken-wing walk, meant to lure predators away from a nest or chicks by simulating an easy meal.

Unfortunately, we are not in a position to just stop what we’re doing and make sure that we don’t disturb their nesting sites. In fact, I am sure that we have, without even noticing, destroyed several nests already as we prepare the fields for planting. It gets me wondering how they make out at all, but they are not a particularly uncommon bird; there are of course many grassy fields and patches of dirt out there that are not intensively farmed. And my guess is that they probably sneak a successful nest or two through on our fields, also. I feel for them, though I also enjoy watching them wing about as I go about my day. I think if I had my own farm I would try and have some enticing corner of my fields that I plowed once or twice a season and keep free of shrubs and tree seedlings but would avoid planting, and hope that a pair of killdeers would make good use of it. How I would get the birds to nest there and not elsewhere is an entirely different story, of course.


Anonymous said...

i love Appleton farms, i work down the street from it, great place.

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