I remember lying flat on my back on the soccer field, staring up at an oval formation of heads. Teammates. Coaches. Refs. And my mom who warned me “you better not be faking it.” I was twelve and apparently prone to such behavior, but in this case I wasn’t. In a spectacular attempt to score a goal, I had torn my ACL. I think about my mom when I see certain birds exhibit “distraction displays” and I always think “FAKER!”
Ground nesting birds such as Black-necked Stilts (Himantopus mexicanus) and Killdeer (Charadrius vociferous) have developed a unique method of protecting their chicks. While many birds would rush back to the nest to cover up their young, Stilts and Killdeer leave the nest when disturbed. They use themselves as bait to draw the attention of the predator and lead them away from the nest. The key to success is their flair for drama. With one wing outstretched, the bird will limp along as if injured or sick. The predator thinks they’ve stumbled upon an easy meal and as they follow the feathered thespian, they are unknowingly lured away from lunch in a nest. Some fakers will sit on the ground and pretend to incubate a fake nest as well. Once the parent feels the predator has been sufficiently duped, they drop the act and take off, leaving the bamboozled hunter hungry.
Stilts have distinctly long, red legs with a higher leg/body ratio than any other bird in
North America except the Flamingo. Currently they are winding up their nesting season in south . Some Stilts nest near the shore and just above the hide tide mark, while others nest on mounds in muddy marshes where they have 360 degree views. The excessive amount of winter rain we received in Florida South Florida has left the inland mud flats underwater. You can’t lay an egg if you don’t have a place to nest.
Despite knowing the injury ruse, I can’t help but follow spectacular birds with my camera and snapped these two in flight, only later realizing they had led me away from their chicks. The parents soon returned to this chick, who someday might be a good little faker too.