Welcoming the influx of spring birds, nests

Killdeer nest
Killdeer make their nests in wide open spaces. Their eggs are speckled and blend in with rocks and plant debris. (Julie Geiss photo)

There is a difference between being startled and being surprised. I can handle being surprised. I am pleasantly surprised when I run into an old friend. I am usually joyful when someone surprises me with delicious food.

I am, however, never happy when I am startled. It makes me jumpy and edgy for hours. I have even banned April Fools’ Day tricks that have the aim of startling me.

Squawking surprise

Imagine how fast my heart raced when a tawny-colored bird squawked and screeched at me as I walked along the edge of my neighbor’s lake. It felt like I jumped several feet in the air. The only thing more agitated than me was the bird itself.

Once I calmed down, I noticed a killdeer had made a nest, a mere indent in the ground, near the lake in a cornfield. Reminding me of plovers at the beach, the killdeer that startled me darted back and forth among the corn stubble on its long legs. Two black bands were at the base of its neck and large eyes watched and observed my movements.

I could admire the beauty of the bird once my heart stopped pounding. I always thought it was peculiar that they made their nests on the ground, especially in places like gravel driveways.

While it seems odd that killdeer nests on the ground, many other birds such as game birds and waterfowl nest on the ground as well. Plovers, terns and sandpipers make their nests on shorelines.

Killdeer make their nests in wide-open spaces. Their eggs are speckled and blend in with rocks and plant debris. The birds are basically hiding their nests in plain sight. Because the eggs blend into their surroundings, they are safe from predators like a snake or fox, or in this case me.

Another deceptive behavior is feigning injury to distract oncomers away from their nest. A killdeer will lay on its side with a wing up while screeching, appearing to be injured. The main goal in this display is distraction from predators and preservation of the eggs.

Once the eggs hatch, the hatchlings already have feathers and the ability to see. They actually hunt for their own food, learning foraging skills by watching their parents. They still need parental support for incubating and learning to recognize and escape from dangerous encounters.

I haven’t seen hatchlings yet at the nest. I hope to be able to spot them in spite of their camouflage in the cornfield. Seeing the eggs did get me thinking about other birds returning in the spring.

More migrators

Once I returned home, I pulled a box of hummingbird feeders off the storage shelf in my basement. I like to place hummingbird feeders in between hanging baskets on my porch.

I have never bought hummingbird food mixes. I use the same recipe year after year, mixing 1 part sugar with 4 parts hot water. I stir until the sugar dissolves and then wait until it cools to fill my feeders.

The annual migration of hummingbirds from Mexico and South America brings the lovely minuscule birds to my backyard, along with the rest of Ohio, in mid to late April.

Mixed in with the hummingbird feeders was an oriole feeder I had purchased the previous spring. It was made of orange-coated wire bent into a circular shape. There are two spokes for orange slices and a glass dish for grape jelly.

We had two pairs of orioles that would swoop down from their high perches in the trees to eat the grape jelly and oranges from late spring into the summer months. We had placed the feeder in an open area where it was easiest to be seen. The feeder was right next to an established patch of Kniphofia, or red hot poker plants, and they seem to beckon the orioles as well.

It’s important to put out feeders early to attract the attention of orioles early in the season, typically the beginning of May in Ohio.

The day after I cleaned out and prepared my feeders, I was startled to see a couple inches of snow on the ground. In true Ohio form, we had seen several seasons crammed into 48 hours.

The drastic weather left me longing for the day when hummingbirds and orioles will cheerfully surprise me with their return to my yard.


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  1. Love this story. I also enjoy welcoming the birds back each spring. I wish I knew the names of more of them. My goal is to begin recognizing their songs.

    Please keep sharing your observations.


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