Naturalist’s Notebook: Killdeer Poses

Text and Illustrations by John Schmitt
John Schmidt: Naturalist

12 April 2013
Tillie Creek, Kern River Valley
Kern County, California

This morning I observed several Killdeers engaged in ritualized behavior and posturing, obviously intended to display their striking plumage patterns.

The most striking display posture was one adopted after a short ground-skimming flight toward other Killdeers; this was a very stiff, upright stance with fully spread tail that the bird held for only a fraction of a second at the instant it landed on the bare ground. In addition to displaying its striking tail pattern, the black facial, neck, and breast bands appeared stacked atop the bird’s brilliant white underparts.

The most frequently employed posture, though, was a horizontal pose where the displaying Killdeer would spread its orangey tail and tilt its back toward another bird. This posture was usually maintained for several seconds as two or more birds produced “chittering” vocals and displayed to each other.

The Cornell Lab

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