Nature, Outside, Science/Math

For the Birds

Killdeer eggs  Photo courtesy Mike Williams
Killdeer eggs
Photo courtesy Mike Williams

We are batty about birds at our house.

About 10 days ago we discovered a killdeer nest. These shorebirds create nests on the ground, rather than in trees. Our bird laid four speckled eggs among the decorative rocks in our front yard. We’ve been checking the nest periodically to see how our birds are faring.

Photo courtesy Mike Williams

These birds have an interesting defense against predators. Whenever someone approaches the nest, one bird acts as if it has a broken wing to draw the predator away. It’s fascinating to watch.

Today we discovered NestWatch from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. We were able to create our nest on the site, get certified as nest watchers and input data from our nest checks. Cornell scientists are especially interested in nests from the following species: American Robin, Northern Mockingbird, Northern Cardinal, Mourning Dove, Barn Swallow, and House Finch. But if you discover any type of nest, you can put it on the site and share your data. This is a fun and easy way for kids to become animal scientists.

We also recently discovered male California quail on our property. These birds just make us giggle. What fun it would be to find a quail nest. We’ll keep you posted.

California quail
Photo courtesy Mike Williams
Outside, Science/Math

Hurry scurry little quail

Starker Leopold, a noted conservationist, once wrote, “There is no more delightful bird to have around the yard than the California Quail.” I’ve never been much of a birder, but I’m captivated by the two quail families that live on our property. I find myself listening for their call, searching out the male sentry and sneaking around for a glimpse of the chicks.

I can pick out the morning assembly call: Chi-co-go, often crowed from our neighbor’s rooftop or the pool wall. Out scurries another male with a couple of older chicks. They forage near the swing set, by the pool, eventually retiring in the shade of the side yard. The boys and I have spent many a minute listening and watching.

In the same area we’ve seen a male, female and three newly hatched chicks, who are tiny compared to the other “babies.” I’m wondering if the same female laid two clutches of eggs this year, a twice a decade occurrence.  This would explain why the older chicks might be tended by Daddy and a benevolent uncle. Or perhaps the pair lost their first nest to pesky ground squirrels. We had a lot of them running around this warm winter.

I’ve tried to get pictures of our quail, but the males are fantastic watchmen. When they see me they shout a warning: pit-pit! Then — hurry scurry — everyone dives for cover. I now understand why wildlife photographers own telephoto lenses.

If you want to learn more about the quail, the California State Bird, check out the Cornell Lab of Ornithology for video, audio and more. If you enjoy birding, you can report sightings and peruse data at eBird.