Friday, April 27, 2012

Beautiful Birds, Clever and Clunky

Birds display all kinds of fascinating behaviors. Whether it's a Hummingbird trying to attract a mate or a Reddish Egret hunting in the shallows, birds seldom move without purpose, and never cease to intrigue with their antics.

When it comes to defensive parenting, Killdeer set the bar for behavior. When predators are near a Killdeer nest, the parents will often feign injury and try to draw them away. This clever bit of guile does not work on humans so well, but luckily we're seldom looking to eat Killdeer eggs. 

While I was observing some White Pelicans at Tres Rios, this Killdeer flew down and landed next to me, eager to draw my attention to its apparent vulnerability (never mind that I just watched it fly in next to me). 

I couldn't help but smirk. It was a very precious moment, and very endearing to observe, but maybe this was a first-year parent because the performance was not all that convincing. 

When the Killdeer wants to get a predators attention away from their nest area, they'll lay low to the ground and spread out their wings and/or tail, appearing to have a broken bone:

Once the predator takes the bait and moves toward the adult, the Killdeer will magically recover just enough to run a few more feet away, while still appearing injured. Ah, the bird has moved but it's still vulnerable, and so the predator follows after it, and the Killdeer repeats its deceptive pattern. It flies a bit and then lies back down again, looking hurt and weak and oh so delicious. Soon, the predator forgets all about those tasty eggs (hopefully) while pursuing the stricken bird. Eventually the Killdeer takes to wing again and leaves the predator feeling glum, knowing it was played for a sap. 

When the danger has been drawn sufficiently away from the nest or young...exit stage right for the Killdeer. Hopefully the predator doesn't remember his original plan.

Maria mentioned that this Killdeer with its fanned tail reminded her of a matador luring on the bull, goading it and using the bull's own instincts against it. I think that fits pretty well.

I must admit, Killdeer calls grate on my ears, but they're still handsome birds and are fairly clever. Alas, the same cannot be said for these White-Winged Doves that descend on the Phoenix area as the temperatures start to rise.

Like Mourning Doves, these White-Wings seem to have a look of unintelligence about them. Of course, the Killdeer teaches us that looks can be deceiving, but with these bullish Doves, there's not much sophistication in their behavior. Though common, they're nice to look at, and I like to see them mixing it up with the Mourning Doves. All the same, they're unsettlingly dumb. I've had to divert lawn mowers around the thoughtless birds as they sit in the yard. Once, I saw a pair mating in the middle of a 4-lane road. I guess I can't critique their methods too much though. After all, it's a successful species.

I took advantage of this Dove's characteristic space-out to snap some close-up photos at the DBG.