Most of my elementary school days, in the 1950s, were spent at North Preparatory, Toronto, north of Chaplin Crescent, North Forest Hill, Toronto (which, I recently learned, was the same elementary school attended by famous Canadian wildlife artist, Robert Bateman a decade earlier), and to the south of the playing fields was an area of hardscrabble dry mud, rock, and weeds. On my bedroom wall was a calendar featuring paintings by the late Allan Brooks, and one of them was a lovely rendering of a Killdeer. The brief text below the illustration said they nested on “wasteland”. I didn’t know what that meant, but when I saw my first killdeers on the barren, bulldozed area south of the school, I thought, aha…this must be a wasteland! But when I then saw the baby killdeers, and the parent go into her “broken wing act”, more properly called a “distraction display”, pretending to be injured to lure a potential predator (me!, a harmless little boy at the time) away from eggs (which I had found anyway) I wondered, how could any land be “wasted” that could be home to such a beautiful, fascinating, creature.
Either parent will attend the young when they are little – I have shown them at around a week old. And while I’ve shown the attentive adult in a typical view, what can’t be seen in the pose and angle I chose is the pale rufous-red coloring of the lower rump and central tail feathers, and the white outer tail feathers with their bold, black spots, all dramatically visible in various displays, including the distraction display.
A species of plover, the Killdeer is named after its pensive, two-syllable call which it utters with great frequency. It has a huge range across most of North America south of the tundra, south through Mexico, Central America and the West Indies into northern and northwestern South America, where there is a resident subspecies. There is a distinct resident subspecies in the West Indies, as well. Northern birds are migratory and here in southern Ontario they are a harbinger of spring, arriving usually in March. They lay four (although sometimes as many as six) cryptically speckled eggs almost in a shallow scrape on the bare ground, with a little arranging of local small debris, interestingly featuring white colored pebbles, leaves, or tiny shells. They may nest on rooftops, road shoulders, or even gravelled rooftops. After nesting, they often are seen in more “shorebird” habitat such as beaches and shallow marsh wetlands, or field ponds, and during migration may be seen with other shorebirds.
Baby Killdeers are “precocial”, able to walk, run, and feed themselves soon after hatching, although still very much under parental care, and quick to crouch down and hide when alerted to danger by a parent bird. Food consists mostly of small invertebrates, but also can include some small weed seeds. The “wasteland” where I saw my first Killdeers as a young child, eventually became a vast lawn, but Killdeers like that sort of habitat, too, so long as they can find some weedy cover, so I hope some young kids are still seeing their first Killdeers there.
This painting is in oils on a birch panel and is 12 by 16 inches.
Barry Kent MacKay
Bird Artist, Illustrator
Studio: (905) 472 9731
31 Colonel Butler Drive
Markham, ON L3P 6B6 Canada