The Fluffy Killdeer Chick

Cuteness Overload and the Broken Wing Fraud

Many a times was I deceived by what seemed to be easy prey. And, as many a times, I did follow the trail of weakness just to end up frustrated, as her deceitfulness knows no boundaries. This time is different. Although tempted to follow her lure, I choose to remain on course and look for the reason she is orchestrating such a phony act. They should not be far away. They are now in hiding. This is the Killdeer sick and hurt act where the Killdeer mom simulates injuries by dragging her broken wing on the ground and limping away from you, the threat to her chicks’ safety. You take the time to follow the prey, as you think it’s a quick and effortless gain, but suddenly she miraculously heals and swiftly flies away from you and back to her chicks. You are now just a distant hazard. The immediate danger has passed.

Killdeer Mom With Busted Wing

Killdeer Mom With "Busted Wing"

During the spring season, almost each nature photographic outing I undertake provides the opportunity to witness the act and entertain myself by either participating or carefully trying to get a glimpse of the Killdeer chicks nearby. In some instances the protective parent convinces me that she’s badly hurt, so she succeeds in leading the danger away. I leave the area and hope she’s continuing to improve her acting skills. Other times though, I’m not falling for her trickery and take the time to look around for Killdeer baby birds. They should be either frozen to the ground and skillfully hidden between rocks, or well camouflaged under bushes or tall grass. Today, it’s just that time. Today, I’m not going to be misled. I leave the Killdeer mom performing and I start looking around for the chicks. In total silence and in slow motion, it takes me 3-4 minutes to find the first Killdeer baby bird. The chick seems more curios than frightened, so it simply comes out from hiding and stands for a portrait session. The happy moments we experience! The Killdeer baby birds are precocial. From the very first day, immediately after hatching, Killdeer chicks are able to stand, run with their parents and feed themselves. I move ever so slowly to make this frame. Not that I have room to maneuver, but I try to position the baby bird between the camera and the sun and use the fill flash to add some light into the shadows. I lower the camera + the 500mm + 2x extender + 25mm of extension close to the ground and I kneel in the muddy water. As the cool temperature of the water reaches me, I arrange the chick’s head against the blue water and, paying attention to the rocks in the background, I finally immortalize the moment.

Killdeer Baby Bird Portrait

Killdeer Baby Bird Portrait

At the time of the photograph, the baby bird is covered in fluffy down which soon will be replaced with feathers. Young Killdeer will fly after 20-30 days after hatching. Here is a vertical layout close-up of the above frame:

Killdeer Baby Bird Portrait

Killdeer Baby Bird Portrait – Vertical Layout

For just a split second the Killdeer baby bird forages through a patch of small plants. That’s long enough to capture the next frame. Its tail aligns with the rock having the sky-blue water as the background. So cute!

Killdeer Baby Bird Foraging

Killdeer Baby Bird Foraging

A second Killdeer baby bird appears from the grass-covered edge and stands shy a few meters from the camera. Curiosity and the relaxed attitude of its brother (or sister) tell this baby bird that the danger has passed. I realize now I’m photographing a brood of 2. Different light conditions come into sight so I adjust camera settings, cautiously align the lens in the proper direction and record the vertical layout portrait as follows:

Killdeer Baby Bird Portrait

Killdeer Baby Bird Portrait – Vertical Layout

The Killdeer baby birds in the above photographs are about 9-10 cm tall. The tiny strands of grass in the foreground, the wet mud and the light sparkles reflecting from the water beads just paint the picture of this bird’s preferred habitat. The photographer in me leveled its head against the dark, out-of-focus, background. Cool fact: Similarly to the Killdeer behaviour, other bird species feign weakness and injury to lure away threats from nest or chicks. I left the area after a good 20 minutes of photographing these common but interesting birds. Who knows? Maybe next time I will take again the strenuous path of deceitfulness and treachery. Next week’s story will illustrate the beautiful Eastern Bluebird. I also hope we will have time to continue with our Point Pelee photo assignment.

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

acekard ds February 25, 2010 at 2:03 am

These are such beautiful photographs of Killdeer chick.Killdeer chick looks so cute and I have never seen such close.There is also nice information of Killdeer chick.I did not know that much..I also like that first picture of Killdeer mom.

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Terry April 26, 2010 at 2:31 pm

Once while riding my bike, I encountered a little group of baby killdeers on the side of the road.  They were so cute, just like mini-me's of their parents.   I've never seen a picture of one.  These are great.  Thanks!

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Mike Lascut April 26, 2010 at 2:43 pm

Hi Terry, thanks for your kind feedback. Totally agree with you, Killdeer chicks are extremely cute :)

I didn't realize how photogenic they are until I stumbled upon this family.

All the best,

MikeL

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Darlene May 29, 2010 at 6:11 pm

Nice shots there!  I have been waiting all spring to see killdeer chicks, but have had a lot of disappointments with eggs not hatching or human/pet interference causing the parent to abandon the nest or the nest/chicks being destroyed.  Glad to see such a happy scene.  It really cheers me up.
That chick looks like it might be at least a week old the way it's tail feathers are starting to come in.  No pinfeathers on the wings, yet, though, so probably not older than 8 or 9 days.

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Mike Lascut May 30, 2010 at 2:46 pm

Hi Darlene, thanks much for your comments. This year I have yet to find an opportunity to shoot kildeer chicks from such proximity. But will keep looking. Killdeer chicks are very photogenic and always a delight to observe :)
MikeL

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brett June 5, 2010 at 10:17 pm

my daughter found four eggs in about 2 inches of water after a storm  the mother left never returned. So my daughter put them under a lamp just to see what would happen and now i have 4 baby killdeer my daughter is so very happy n proud…… 

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Mike Lascut June 6, 2010 at 12:21 pm

Hi Brett, thanks for sharing your killdeer experience. It’s unfortunate that the mother abandoned the eggs, she may have been chased away by a bird of prey, or even worse, killed in the attack. Thanks again and hope the chicks are doing well with their new family ;)
MikeL

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janie kirby July 1, 2010 at 9:17 pm

im trying to find out what you fed the baby keeldeer  i have a newly hatched baby to feed

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Mike Lascut July 1, 2010 at 10:38 pm

Hi Janie, the killdeer chicks were all photographed in the wild. Their mom was nearby playing the “hurt” game to trick me into following her rather than going after her babies. So I never had to feed a killdeer chick. I’d suggest asking at your local pet store, or veterinary, or humane society – they should be in better position to advise what you can feed the chick. Good luck and thanks for your question.
MikeL

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kenny July 2, 2010 at 9:45 pm

THE KILLDEER IS NOT CUTE YOU KNOW WHY BECAUSE IT ATACKED ME

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Mike July 2, 2010 at 11:58 pm

Hi Kenny,
Sorry to hear about the attack :) The bird may have seen you as a threat and responded accordingly.
Thanks for your comment.MikeL

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cherylann clavijo July 7, 2010 at 3:32 pm

i just snapped a picture of a killdeer just hatching such a cute site…. little puff balls…. and fast…

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Mike Lascut July 7, 2010 at 4:51 pm

Hi Cherylann,
Thanks for your comment. They are indeed very cute. And happy to hear you were able to witness the hatching. Nature is truly amazing.
Best :)
MikeL

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Debbie May 10, 2012 at 1:46 am

I have been watching a nest of killdeer for about 25 days. they finally hatched last night. saw them right after they broke the shell. such a treat to me. today they are  up and running around. It was wonderful to see. They are so cute. Amazing that the size they are came from the size of egg they were in. seems like double the size. It was very rewarding for me. took some pictures from a distance and I hope they turn out.

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Mike Lascut May 10, 2012 at 9:12 am

Hi Debbie,
Thanks for your feedback. Happy to hear they hatched successfully. I’m assuming that after so many years of evolution, the shell of the egg got very optimized and the chicks are taking full advantage of every corner of its space :)
All the best,
MikeL

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Scot June 7, 2012 at 3:46 pm

My Killdeer parents' eggs hatched yesterday (all 4 eggs hatched).     I am so sad today though because there are only two chicks left today which are being guarded by mom and dad.     I guess predators or the neighboys cat got two of the younglings.     So sad!    I am debating staying up all night to guard the other two tonight.

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Mike Lascut June 7, 2012 at 3:54 pm

So sorry to hear Scot. It’s unfortunate to lose them especially since mom and dad probably did their best to protect them. Let’s hope though that the remaining two chicks will survive!

All the best,
MikeL

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