Among ground-nesting birds in the Northeast, the American Woodcock, also known as the Timberdoodle, is one of the earliest to lay eggs – usually around mid- to late April. The female shapes a shallow depression in the leaf litter and then incubates her eggs for about three weeks. During this time, if she is sufficiently disturbed, the female will flush and feign injury. She usually lands nearby, runs about with her tail spread, wings drooping and her body quivering, uttering a cat-like sound to distract potential predators.
Upon hatching, the precocial chicks are brooded until their down dries and then leave the nest, usually within hours of hatching. For the first week or so they are dependent upon their mother feeding them, but soon are finding their own food. In a little over a month, the chicks become completely independent. (Thanks to Susan Morse and Phillip Mulligan for photo op.)
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This is what a typical Wild Turkey’s nest looks like – anywhere from 4 to 17 eggs in a shallow depression in the ground. Sometimes, however, turkeys engage in a practice referred to as “egg dumping.” A hen turkey comes along and lays a few eggs in several other turkeys’ nests, in an effort to maximize the number of her offspring that will survive. Up to 26 eggs have been found in a single Wild Turkey nest. The hen turkey that built the nest doesn’t reject the additional eggs, but rather, welcomes them to her brood, incubates them and treats them as her own. All of the precocial chicks are out of the nest within 24 hours of hatching and follow the hen, who feeds them for a few days until they learn to find food on their own.
Spotted Sandpipers are a relatively easy shorebird to identify, with their spotted breasts, their constant body-bobbing/teetering and the stiff beat of their wings. Although they are a shorebird, they can be found near freshwater ponds and streams throughout North America. Spotted Sandpipers differ from most birds in that the male and female roles are completely reversed when it comes to breeding – from courtship to parental care. The females establish and defend their territory, often arriving on nesting grounds before the males. Females court the males, performing display flights as well as strutting displays on the ground. Males, usually less aggressive and smaller in size, do the lion’s share of incubating the eggs and brooding the young chicks.
Killdeer arrived back in northern New England last month and have already begun nesting. Being a ground nester, the killdeer has many mammalian predators from which it needs to protect its eggs, including weasels, skunks, opossums and raccoons. Nesting killdeer have a number of responses to predators, which include several different types of distraction displays which draw attention to the bird away from its nest. One of the most common displays is to feign injury by assuming a position which makes the bird appear vulnerable. When a predator approaches, the bird runs away from the nest, crouches with its head low, wings drooping and tail fanned and dragging the ground to display its rufous rump-patch. The predator typically follows, seeing an easy meal, and as soon as it gets too close for the killdeer’s comfort, the killdeer continues to lead it off by alternate flights and sprints.