An expecting killdeer and her clutch of four eggs temporarily halted construction of a new $4 million Prevea Health Center in Ladysmith.
Prevea project managers and contractors discovered the bird and its nest during a recent groundbreaking. Immediately after the ceremony, the nest area was cordoned off with stakes and caution tape to alert anyone on-site that it is there.
“We also made the decision to delay construction in that immediate area to give the bird some time and to see what happens. Construction is still currently delayed and will continue to be so for another week for that same reason,” said Prevea spokesperson Angela Deja. “If the bird, its eggs or babies and nest are still present, we will consult with the DNR on the next best steps.”
The killdeer is a medium-sized plover. They are a noisy bird, and their English name comes from their distinctive kill deer cry. During nesting season killdeer use open dry uplands, open areas where vegetation is short or absent, agricultural field, and meadows. Nesting habitat is characterized as having enough nest materials to form a scrape but otherwise having little or no vegetation.
Wisconsin Assembly 87th District Rep. Jim Edming, who attended the groundbreaking, said he alerted the construction crew to the bird’s presence. Throughout the ceremony, the bird stayed put and continued to make shrill warning calls.
The nest blends in almost perfectly with the landscape.
Killdeer commonly nest on the ground on bare soil, gravel or other open areas of sparse vegetation cover, according to Bill Volkert, retired wildlife educator/naturalist at Wisconsin’s Horicon Marsh Wildlife Area. They hide their nests with the excellent camouflage of their eggs, which closely matches the background color. Killdeer have an incubation period of 24 to 26 days, and both male and female incubate the eggs. Incubation will begin when all four eggs have been laid and upon hatching the young will leave the nest and follow the parents within 24 hours.
Killdeer frequently will use a broken-wing act to distract predators from their nests. This involves the bird walking away from its nesting area holding its wing in a position that simulates an injury and then flapping around on the ground emitting a distress call. The predators then think they have easy prey and are attracted to this seemingly injured bird and away from the nest. If the parent sees that a potential predator is not following them, they will move closer and get louder until they get the attention of the predator. This is repeated until the predator is far from the nest, and the killdeer suddenly “heals” and flies away.
The range of the killdeer spreads across the Western Hemisphere. In the summer, killdeer live as far north as the Canadian provinces of Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, the Yukon and Quebec, as well as the southern parts of the U.S. state of Alaska.
“If you want to do something that is really good and people will love, you don’t want to disturb that nest or you will have every environmentalist in the country after you,” Edming said.
Edming called halting construction for a nesting killdeer a positive story. He also said it should be excellent publicity for Prevea.
“That will catch the heart of a lot of people,” Edming said. “It will show that this firm coming in is concerned about the environment.”
Although killdeer are considered shorebirds, they often live far from water. They live in grassland habitats such as fields, meadows, and pastures. The nest itself is merely a shallow depression or bowl in the ground, fringed by some stones and blades of grass. The nest is well camouflaged, as the spots of the eggs disguise them as stones, and the simple structure of the nest resembles its surroundings. The young are able to see and forage soon after hatching.
Deja said the goal is to protect the bird until the eggs hatch and construction can then resume.
“We want to be 100 percent respectful of this situation and do our best to maintain a peaceful, safe environment for the bird and her babies,” Deja said.