One of the joys of my first year of the COVID epidemic was discovering a pair of killdeers that nested in a creek a short walk from my back door. It was a joy again a few days ago to see that another killdeer couple has set up housekeeping in the same area, along the 12th-hole fairway of the golf course that our modest property adjoins.
I was on a late-afternoon walk, returning home, when I spotted movement in the rocky creek bed, just to the side of a culvert connecting to a retention pond. I pulled up my binoculars and made a solid ID on a killdeer.
The bird soon turned away from me, fanning out its tail feathers. I thought — mistakenly, I would learn — it must be some sort of courtship maneuver. But no other bird was nearby.
Knowing that killdeer make their nests on the ground, I always keep a fair distance when I see them in the creek. I moved in slightly closer to snap a few photos but quickly moved on.
Before I reached home, curiosity got the better of me. I did a Google search from my iPhone on why a killdeer would fan its tail feathers. The answer came up quickly on the website of Northern Woodlands magazine: killdeer fan their feathers as a diversion to keep predators away. The article, from 2016, is a great read on the protective measures many bird species take. “If they gave out Academy Awards for bird performances,” the article says, “the killdeer would win for over-acting.”
Having been profiled as a predator, I’ll be sure to keep a good distance from killdeer from now on. I saw enough bird twerking that day to last me a good while.