Born Ready!


One would not expect to hear the inclusion of brown and black wings when describing a deer, and mentioning they are capable of breaking into rapid overhead flight just like other birds just sounds crazy, but a killdeer isn’t exactly a deer. It’s a bird, a medium sized plover with a cute round head, short bill and large dark eyes ringed bright red. They are especially slender with lanky legs and have a long, pointy tail with exceptionally long wings for their diminutive size. Their white chest is barred with two black bands, and the brown face is marked with black and white patches. They received the name Killdeer because one of their many calls is said to be a high pitched sound resembling kill- deer. The infants are small, bright-eyed, fluffy replicas of their parents, miniatures so to speak. I’m sure all Killdeer parents consider their children “mini-me’s.” Although referred to as shorebirds, they often choose to live far from water such as on a golf course, an athletic field, a residential driveway, a parking lot or you may find them nesting on a gravel-covered roof. So the killdeer is considered one of the least water associated of all shorebirds. They nest in open areas, mainly on the ground and usually in gravel with no traditional nest structure that would stand out, which is extremely precarious when humans are walking and driving about. There is a method to this madness, though. Their 3 to 4 eggs are speckled, allowing them to blend nicely in a slight depression among the stones. Becoming incognito avoids attention by predatory animals who rely mainly on sight for hunting. We get quite a few calls at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport this time of year from people who see infant killdeer on the ground and insist the birds are too small to be on their own and something must have happened to their mother. After confirming they are killdeer, we advise the caller to let them be, as killdeer are precocial, which means they are able to move about, as well as, forage for food such as insects right after hatching. When hunting, these tawny birds (even the babies) run across the ground in spurts, stopping with a jolt every so often to see if they’ve startled up any insect prey. Due to an extra two-week stay in the egg over altricial birds, they are born ready, eyes open, eager to follow their parents immediately, much like ducklings or quail and closer to independence than most baby birds. If you come upon baby killdeer, know that Mom is watching and if you get too close to her babies she will enter the scene feigning injury by using her famous “broken wing act” to distract you (the predator) from her nesting territory. Recently, we received a call from someone aboard the Marine Base in Jacksonville who said two baby birds were stuck in a storm drain, beneath the grate. Fortunately, the drain area was dry. I thought it unusual for two baby birds to fall into a drain together and asked her to describe the birds to me. While talking on the phone, another Good Samaritan happened upon the site and reached into the grate and took each of them out and placed them in the grass. The caller was hesitant to touch them for fear the parents would not reclaim them if human scent was present. I assured her that would not be a problem because most birds’ sense of smell is not as highly developed as other senses, and they will be happy just to get their offspring back. After discerning they were killdeer from the lady’s description, I advised them to step away from the infants to encourage Mom to recover her kids and as expected, Momma rushed from hiding and started flapping around on the ground while shrieking her distress call. The baby waders scurried to a bush, and their Mom soon followed. Keeping tabs on these frantic, squealing little babies who scatter in all directions to forage or when scared is a tough job for Killdeer parents, but both Mom and Dad stay after them constantly. Occasionally, there is a need for our shelter to take in a Killdeer infant or two when evidence indicates there are no parents to provide the training and protection they need, but we’re on top of what’s required to raise them for their second chance in the wild; simulated habitat shielded from human contact, proper diet and time to grow. Watch out for those little guys and girls for they may be running around in a driveway or parking lot near you!!

Linda Bergman-ALthouse
Author of “Save Them All

Apple A Day – NOT!


The old adage “An apple a day, keeps the doctor away,” still holds true according to TV’s Dr. Oz. Although he agrees, he adds “helps – keep the doctor away.” I’m up for that! I like apples, what’s NOT to like about a crisp, refreshing apple. They are low in calories and fat, contain complex sugars and chock full of good stuff like vitamins, minerals and flavonoids believed to help prevent growth of cancer cells, promote hair growth, improve lung function, boost heart health, increase bone density, aid digestion and slow the aging process. HEY! I’ll take a bushel of apples right now! The apple is considered one of the most valuable fruits throughout the world. So, I do NOT have a problem with the apple, it’s just where the apple or remains of the apple ends up, as well as our popcorn, cheetos, bread, chips, pretzels, fries and even, ice cream! Many animals are scavengers and have learned to take advantage of human littering, wastefulness and recreational handouts. The Ring-Billed Gull pictured should be scavenging for fish, insects and small rodents close to a large body of water, but he and his kind now like to hang out where we humans shop and play because people have a bad habit of tossing food on the ground. These feathery guys and girls know this. Generations of gulls have been conditioned over the years to expect movie popcorn strewn in the parking lot, a hefty helping of fries at Hardees, small children, encouraged by adults, throwing bread into the air at a park, fast food bags that are fun to open along the highway and an outstretched hand filled with snacks connected to a human’s body wishfully attempting to bond with this wild bird. Gulls get so used to relating humans to food presence they will swoop down and aggressively annoy just about anyone for a morsel of anything! Pretty soon, we will see them smoking! People have created this abnormal gull behavior through a very simple rewards system, so we really shouldn’t complain about maneuvering around them at our shopping malls, the seabird poop on our cars or the relentless squawking they seem to enjoy. We have made the gull’s task of filling their belly too darn easy which has caused many gulls to abandon their normal feeding instincts. Gulls can spend all day eating low-nutrition, snack food, get a one-sided diet and may get sick, die or become malnourished which atrophies their feather shafts, grounding them (unable to fly). Their feathers are extremely important. Of course, we know they need feathers to fly, but those feathers also serve as a temperature regulator, protect them from wind, moisture and sun, trap air to help them float, become nesting material and fish eaters, like gulls, eat some of their feathers to line their digestive area to protect sensitive membranes from sharp fish bones. Most animals, including gulls, have evolved with very specific natural diets and have very specific kinds of digestive bacteria. Human food ingestion causes the wrong type of bacteria to become dominate in their stomachs, rendering the seabird no longer capable of digesting their natural foods. They can end up starving to death even with stomachs full of what they should have been eating all along. It is absolutely essential to the health and well-being of gulls (as well as other wild animals) that they not be fed by humans intentionally or indirectly through littering. Some people think they are just supplementing the gull’s diet with their generous but uneducated offerings, when in fact they are altering, and very possibly ending, their lives. Not feeding them will allow the gulls to find natural food sources, which provide better nutrition than food intended for human consumption. Half of our product offerings aren’t good for us either! That parking lot apple may be the most nutritional choice the gull made in weeks, although he probably dodged traffic to get it, but it’s not enough to keep him healthy and alive. Please think twice about throwing down that French Fry or cheese puff for a gull to gobble. If we all made the decision to withhold the junk food, we might just cause the gulls to leave our asphalt jungle and return to big water, and in essence, save their lives (and the finish on our cars!). Maybe we should get really serious about it, like the Brits!

Linda Bergman-Althouse
Wildlife Rehabilitator &
author of
“Save Them All”
http://www.bergman-althouse.com
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