An Immature Killdeer: Let’s Do the Math

In my last post on Bell’s Vireo I guessed at some dates in its breeding cycle. What really started my thought process on the Bell’s followed my initial reaction to the following photo:

And I am only going to post one photo today because I think the dialog is more important to this post.

KILL 052415A
The initial view of an adult and immature Killdeer which lead to this post. Johnson County Park. 5/24/15

After viewing the Bell’s Vireo, I came across an adult Killdeer that seemed to be making more of a raucous than usual.  Not giving the broken wing distraction, but loud and running around. I figured she had a nest somewhere in the loose, sandy gravel.  After searching for several minutes I finally saw why she was trying to divert my attention.

There was an immature Killdeer about three-fourths full-grown.

I was completely surprised and caught off-guard.

Many times I have seen recently fledged Killdeer. Those cut little balls that run around chasing their parents.  But that is always towards the end of June or early July in the warm, humid summer.

So by doing the math I found out that this immature Killdeer was either early or there was something I didn’t know.  And this lead to figuring the math on the Bell’s Vireo. 

As it turned out, I didn’t know the breeding cycle of the Killdeer. Since I usually see the downy young around July 4 I figured that they started nesting sometime around June 1.

But what I found out is Killdeer usually start the process much earlier.  Looking at the following chart you can see that I took the day I saw the Killdeer, May 23, and back figured the dates. Which means the adult Killdeer started working on the nest in late March, much earlier than I figured.

I learned it takes them approximately 8 days to build the nest, they usually lay four eggs over 6 days, it takes an average of 26 days to incubate the eggs, and the young leave the nest within one day of being born.  It takes somewhere around 30 days to almost reach full size, so I guessed this young one was around 20 days. Thus the nest start date of March 23. Not unusual but much earlier than I would have guessed.


Killdeer Days Date
started nest-building   3/23/15
nest-building 8 3/31/15
egg-laying 6 4/6/15
incubation 26 5/2/15
days in nest 1 5/3/15
young – days old out of nest 20 5/23/15

This also makes me wonder since she laid 4 eggs, what happened to the other young ones. Never hatched? Something got them when they were small? Already gone? And will this female try for another brood this year? Probably not since they usually only have one brood per year.

I previously had no idea of the breeding cycle of Killdeer. My complete lack of knowing once again shows how little I know about our local birds and that I don’t need to go very far to have an enlightening outing.

The information in this post came from The Birds of North America Online and The Birder’s Handbook – A Field Guide to The Natural History of North American Birds.

The Return of Bell’s Vireo

On Saturday Mike and I birded Johnson County Park.  One of the species we heard but did not see was a Bell’s Vireo. As you probably know Central Indiana is on the eastern edge of the breeding area for Bell’s. Bell’s has been in the Johnson County Park area since I moved here and I’m told it has been for years.  So it is always good to confirm the return of Bell’s to Johnson County.

For several reasons that I will blog about in the coming weeks I went back to Johnson County Park on Sunday.  I wasn’t particularly looking for Bell’s Vireo again Sunday but when I heard it start singing,  I eventually made my way that direction.

Remember: As always, click on images for a larger and clearer view.   All images are of a male Bell’s Vireo singing in some terrible lighting for photos.


143It took me about 15 minutes to wrap observing another species and I stayed around the Bell’s area for another hour with him singing the entire time.



His routine was to alternate singing in three spots. The main spot was a tree in the middle of a bushy area.  The other spots were trees 35 meters to the north and 25 meters south of the main tree.  This fits with Birds of North America Online stating the usual breeding territory is .5 hectare (60 meters squared = 3600 or .36 hectares.  A little small but there were man-made boundaries to limit the area.



According to eBird most Bell’s Vireo arrive the week’s of 5/1 or 5/8.   I’ll use 5/8 since that has been historically when I first hear them. The Birds of North America Online then supplied the rest of the details to fill out the chart below. The purpose of the chart is to give approximate dates so I can monitor the area to confirm some of the breeding cycle dates. Like watching for nest-building material being carried into the bush.  Or watch for food being carried in for nestlings.

But mainly to check if the male did attract a mate and breeding occurs.

Bell’s Vireo – Breeding Date Guesses
Male arrives 5/8/15
Female arrives/nest-building begins 10 days later 5/18/15
nest building 5 days 5/23/15
egg-laying 4 days 5/27/15
incubation 14 days 6/10/15
nestlings 12 days 6/22/15
fledged date 6/22/15

152So stayed tune to see if my predictions are close and if the I can confirm them.

Big May Day Count – Lack of Shorebirds

During the Indiana Audubon Big May Day Bird Count there is historically a lack of shorebirds in Johnson County. That is not surprising since the county is basically an urban area with some farmland. Not much habitat for shorebirds.

But I know a few spots that might have water and can usually turn up a few shorebirds. Last year on the count I found Greater Yellowlegs and Solitary Sandpipers down by Edinburgh.

From a few days before the Big May Day count last year, and they hung around for count day. Greater Yellowlegs and Solitary Sandpiper. Edinburgh Retaining Pond 5/03/14

But this year there was a lack of rain leading up to the count.  Mike and I had found some shorebirds in April but those spots were in farm fields and had dried up by the day of the count.

A Greater Yellowlegs in a flooded farm field.  4/18/15  Johnson County.
A Solitary Sandpiper in the same field as above.  4/18/15  Johnson County.

So when the group met at lunch it was no surprise that the only shorebirds found in the morning were Killdeer and Spotted Sandpiper. And only a couple of each. I had struck out on the two main productive sites since they were dry. So I decided to work my way home stopping by about ten spots that I knew could hold shorebirds.  If they were holding water.

Of the ten spots four were dry. Six of the spots had small amounts of water and all had shorebirds, either Spotted Sandpiper or Killdeer.  So I was still no further ahead except for a good count on the Spotties.

A Spotted Sandpiper feeding in marshy area by Franklin HS. Franklin 5/9/15
This photo shows why they are called Spotted Sandpipers. Franklin HS 5/9/15

The last place I stopped was a spot I had discovered a few weeks previously. It was by a new building site and eventually it would be a retaining pond but for now it held a small amount of water. And in this case no Spotted Sandpipers but Killdeer and four Least Sandpipers.

A Killdeer at the spot were I finally found some shorebirds. Greenwood 5/9/15
Two of the four Least Sandpipers running around the construction site. Greenwood 5/9/15
Not sure what this Least Sandpiper found to eat in this barren construction site. Greenwood 5/9/15

At first I thought they were Pectoral Sandpipers.  But they were much smaller next to the Killdeer.

So I am glad I found them since I had run out of places to search. But it makes one ask, how much habitat has been lost for migrating shorebirds?



Just Plain Lucky

If you have been following this blog then you know that taken photos is not my main objective in birding.  But I still like to get a good photo once in a while. Especially of birds that I don’t get a chance to photograph often.

Mike and I were birding a local park a week ago Saturday when I noticed something flitting through the trees.  My first thought was that it was a warbler but we had only seen one warbler that morning, an American Redstart.

American Redstart – Greenwood IN 05/02/15

But I stayed on the moving bird and from it’s shape I could tell it was a vireo.  And a Blue-headed Vireo at that! As seen in the following Indiana Bar Chart from eBird, we see less Blue-headed Vireos in Indiana than all vireos except Philadelphia Vireos .

Indiana - Vireos

We got to watch the bird for a good length of time.  But as I stated it was working its way though the trees like a warbler, not offering much of a chance for a photo. Mike thinks since the trees had hardly budded there wasn’t much to eat so it kept moving searching for food.

Finally it stopped for a second and I got to take two photos. First the usual photo – nothing.


And sometimes you’re Just Plain Lucky. Definitely click the photo for larger view.

Blue-headed Vireo – Greenwood IN 05/02/15

I will probably go the rest of my life and not get a better photo, maybe even a view, of a Blue-headed Vireo. 




Yummy – Taraxacum!

Last Sunday I happened to stumble upon a flock of sparrows working their way through the brush of a local stream.  I knew they were up ahead because I heard the songs of both White-throated and White-crowned Sparrows. When I came around the bend there was a mad scramble from the grass back into the brush telling me there was a good number of sparrows.

I tried to observe as many of the sparrows as I could. It paid off with a good view of a Lincoln’s Sparrow back a few feet in the brush.  Even though I haven’t seen very many Lincoln’s Sparrows it was obvious with it’s smaller size than a Song Sparrow, plainer face, and buffy breast with thin stripes.

I watched the White-throated Sparrows fly out of the brush to feed on the grass and then fly back in.  I finally decided to try to photograph one since they were all showing some of the brightest colors I have seen.

Here is the White-throated Sparrow I ended up getting a chance to photograph. It flew out from a bush to feed in the grass. Franklin HS 05/03/15
Next it is looking around to see if the coast is clear to make its move. Franklin HS 05/03/15
And finally it springs up and takes a bite of the Taraxacum, commonly known as dandelion. (didn’t know that until today)  Franklin HS 05/03/15
WTSP - dandelion
I cropped the last photo to show how the White-throated stretched up to take a bite. Franklin HS 05/03/15

I have watched American Goldfinch eat dandelions but never sparrows.

An American Goldfinch watched the sparrows eating before it joined in. Franklin HS 05/03/15

How Do You Like Your Photos? Big or Small?

When looking at photos of birds on the internet, especially blogs, they are usually full screen, large photos that encompass the whole bird. You know what I am talking about.  They are great photos by some great birders/photographers. And are really cool to look at.

But it isn’t how we see birds in the field 99% of the time.  

When we are lucky enough for a bird to sit long enough for a photo it is usually a long shot and not one that would win any awards.  How often in the field do we see birds in award winning views?  Rarely.  So I like to see photos of birds that show them basically how we see them from the field.

Or just a notch better.

By showing them just a notch better I can study just a little more detail than usually seen in the field.  Too far away and there isn’t enough detail for study.  Too close and there is detail we will never see in the field, so why get to that level?

That is one of several reasons I like the “The Cornell Lab of Ornithology All About Birds” website. As seen in this screen shot of Carolina Wren, I estimate their photos take up about an 1/8 of the screen, not 1/2 or more. Maybe a little closer than we see them, but not overwhelming.

All About Birds

So what got me thinking on this topic were two photos I took this past Saturday of a Carolina Wren.  I first took a few preliminary photos and then zoomed in. These were taken from across a creek 30-40 feet from the wren.

This photo shows how we usually see a Carolina Wren when they do decide to pop out of the brush. Greenwood, Johnson County 05/02/15
A zoomed in photo of the same wren showing more detail – clearer supercilium especially. Greenwood, Johnson County 05/02/15
The previous photo cropped and magnified. Showing detail we hardly ever see in the field. Greenwood, Johnson County 05/02/15

So what size do you like your photos? Me? Somewhere before the first and second photos of the Carolina Wren.