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Is the Killdeer smart or dumb?

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The Killdeer is a large plover found in the Americas. It was given its name when scientists heard its call and they thought that it sounded like it was saying “kill-deer”. It’s a simple as that! But some people in their commentaries on videos about the Killdeer say that the bird is dumb because they lay their eggs on the ground and because their eggs look like gravel, they might build a very skimpy nest in places which make their eggs vulnerable to human activity such as gravel parking lots or where people walk and drive vehicles.

And because they nest on the ground in open spaces where their eggs are vulnerable, mother Killdeers have developed a smart strategy to draw away predators; they pretend that they are injured which makes them a more attractive target to predators than their eggs. But when the predator approaches them, they move away from their eggs which clearly indicates that they aren’t injured.

But it obviously works otherwise they would not have evolved this technique to protect their offspring. I think it is a very clever technique and I think this bird is smart. The fact that they happen, sometimes, to lay their eggs on a gravel car park is not because they are dumb. It is because human activity is everywhere including on Killdeer habitat. They don’t understand human activity and how dangerous it might be. I’m referring to car parks in particular and vehicles or pedestrian traffic.

And, as you can see, the eggs look just like gravel so they are camouflaged which is why they sometimes choose gravel carparks. But why do some birds nest on the ground where their eggs are vulnerable? Because there’s an abundance of food on the ground. This of course helps in survival.


Killdeer. Pic in the public domain.

And as the Killdeer evolved at a time when humans were either non-existent on the planet or there were very few of them, there was no danger to Killdeer eggs from human activity. At that time, they were probably as safe on the ground as they were in a tree. It seems that human activity has created an added vulnerability to Killdeer families which is unsurprising.

It seems to me that this bird species would not have developed the fake injury defence of its offspring but for the fact that they are ground nesters. It’s a package of evolutionary traits. Plovers are shorebirds. These are places where they are stones and sand. That’s the habitat in which they have evolved their egg camouflage and behavior. Sadly, a lot of human constructions inland replicate this such as parking lots.

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