Thursday, June 6, 2019

Let's Catch that Bird with the Broken Wing! The Killdeer of the Great Valley Museum Outdoor Nature Lab

It's an omen of sorts, or maybe a blessing by nature.

The Killdeer (Charadrius vociferous) is the mascot or icon of the Great Valley Museum, as can be seen on our various logos. There is a good reason for this: the bird survives quite well in the valley environment, both on the dry prairies and in the river/delta wetlands.

We had a major moment take place this week: after 35 years of proposals and dashed hopes, and after a year of fenced-off construction zones, the fences came down and yesterday people could walk freely along the paths of our new Outdoor Nature Lab. It is a marvelous microcosm of the environment of the Great Valley, with native vegetation and native rock exposures from the prairies at the confluence of the Great Valley and the Sierra Nevada foothills. Interpretive signs will soon be posted, and activities will soon be available for our local children to learn about their local natural environment.
Our local species are already responding to the newly completed environment, and in particular, the Killdeer, our icon. We noticed almost right away that a pair was moving around the grounds, and we suspected there might be a nest. Someone soon found it, but I don't know how they ever saw it.

How good are you at nest-finding? It's in this picture...can you find it?
The eggs will be incubated for 22-28 days, and when they hatch, the chicks will be able to walk as soon as their feathers dry off. Given such a vulnerable location, just sitting out on the ground, one has to wonder how they can survive out there in the open prairie.

It involves deception, of course. If the danger is from a browsing cow or deer, the parents will make a big display to cause the animals to graze in another direction. But if the danger is a predator that might eat the eggs and/or the parents, the birds will do a fascinating "broken-wing" dance that will catch the attention of the fox or raccoon and the birds will lead the animal away from the nest. We were subjected to the dance while we took a short look at the nest. Check out the video of the display below.

What a wonderful welcome to the next stage of our service to nature education in our community!

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