Of interesting bird and animal behavior

Last week our big cat Clyde brought a cute little killdeer bird over to our deck and dropped it in front of my husband. The bird appeared stunned as it lay down and fluttered a bit. The cat sometimes brings us "presents" but we don't want him to kill the little birds. Mice and skunks are in a different category.

The mama killdeer followed her instinct and fluffed up her feathers to make herself seem much larger as she charged at Clyde while crying out with a loud, piercing call. It kind of sounded like "kill-dee" and I guess that's how it got its name. When she got about 20 yards away, she lay down on the grass and started moving one of her wings as if it was injured. Actually, she was trying to lure Clyde toward her so the big cat would stay away from her baby. The strategy worked. The cat prowled slowly toward mama killdeer while her uninjured baby ran for cover under a nearby juniper bush and that's when mama quickly flew away.

Some birds are so fearless they will attack larger birds. You've probably seen little birds chasing after big birds, like a sparrow banging into a hawk in midflight. The hawk is usually getting close to the nesting area and the sparrow has strong instincts to protect her eggs or hatchlings. Once again, Mother Nature has her own way of protecting wild animals.

Quail as Surrogate Father

Since we're on the topic of interesting birds, I'll tell you what's happening to a quail in our neighbor's yard. Dolly Schreckengost has an attraction for some unusual birds. They are unique because they don't act like regular birds. She's got a turkey that has a sexual identification problem. "Princess" has laid eggs like other female turkeys do, but then she also gobbles and raises her tail feathers into a beautiful fan with colorful plumage. She wiggles her wattles and her head turns blue. Sounds like a male to me.

Now there's a strange relation between a wild quail and seven young chickens. Dolly said the male quail has been acting like a very overprotective surrogate father. Whenever the month-old little chickens appear to be in any kind of danger, the quail chirps loudly and actually herds the baby chicks away from danger and into a safe area. Since the very beginning when the little chicks were hatched and first out of their nest, the quail was always there, like a sentry standing guard.

This was the mother hen's very first litter and she certainly hasn't acted very maternal. She allows her chicks to hang out alongside the quail. He eats with them and he actually naps in the same large container with them. It's really a strange relationship.

Dolly said the biological father to the chickens is a big, fat, ugly rooster with lots of grayish feathers and the mother hen is a brownish-orange colored Mexican hen. All seven babies are light tan in color with fuzzy gray feathers on their feet. Their adoptive father is a regular old grayish-colored quail. I guess he's not so regular after all.

-- Linda Monohan can be reached at 782-5802.


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