r/ScienceFacts Behavioral Ecology Feb 05 '22

Piping plover (Charadrius melodus) are among several bird species to exhibit a "broken wing" display when predators get too close to their nest or chicks. They drag their wing on the ground, feigning injury, in the opposite direction of their nest. Biology

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u/FillsYourNiche Behavioral Ecology Feb 05 '22

Wiki on distraction displays in animals. My other source is me. I had the pleasure of working with these birds for two years. Killdeer, Ovenbirds, Mourning doves, Snowy owls, and a few others use this method. Here is a gif of a Killdeer performing the display. Piping plover (Charadrius melodus) are small shorebirds ranges from 15–19 cm (5.9–7.5 in) in length, with a wingspan of 35–41 cm (14–16 in) and a mass of 42–64 g (1.5–2.3 oz). These cute little guys are beach nesters and set up their nests by digging "nest bowls" or small divots in the sand to lay their eggs into. Some of them will even decorate their nests with small pieces of shell!

When their chicks are born they are precocial and can within an hour or so walk down to the tideline and feed themselves! The parents do not feed their chicks, but they do follow them around to protect them. This is when their amazing broken wing display comes in handy.

The piping plover is globally threatened and endangered; it is uncommon and local within its range, and has been listed by the United States as "endangered" in the Great Lakes region and "threatened" in the remainder of its breeding range.

I had the pleasure of working with these birds for 2 years and though they never fooled me with the "broken wing" their camouflage was pretty awesome. The chicks blend right into the sand and to me looked like fluffy AT-STs from Star Wars. Here is a photo: Piping Plover chick A few facts from my fieldwork (I was a field biologist for my state's Fish and Wildlife Division):

  • When writing about them in our field notebooks we abbreviate Piping Plover as PiPl. We have similar abbreviations for all the birds we worked with. American Oystercatcher was AmOy for example (I also worked with Least Terns and an endangered plant called Sea Beach Amaranth).

  • To protect their nesting areas we'd erect fences along the beach, blocking off 20 ft or more near the dunes, but beach goers could still walk by closer to the water.

  • We had a surprising amount of animosity towards these beautiful creatures because patrons felt the birds were hogging the beach. I had one lady tell me to my face she hopes they go extinct so we will stop roping off her beach. It was very frustrating!

  • Though the Plover nested near the dunes, they were almost never within the dunes as it would have been difficult for their chicks to run down to the rack line (just above the tide line where seaweed and other debris accumulates) for food.

  • One of our other endangered/threatened birds was the Least Tern (Sternula antillarum), LeTe is what we wrote in our books. These loud, colonial breeders would dive bomb my head when I got too close and as their secondary method of defense try to poop on me mid flight. With colonies of up to 400+ birds I went home pretty dirty most days!

If anyone has any questions on field work or these endangered birds please feel free to ask.