The Surprising Meaning Behind a Killdeer’s Tail Flagging Display

I was photographing two Killdeer in a field at the Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma when one of the birds started doing some type of display. I thought it was related to mating, but that could not be correct because it was December.

Killdeer Tail Flagging Display
Killdeer Tail Flagging Display

I read that the pose I observed could be a Killdeer performing a cloacal display, also known as tail flagging. This behavior isn’t directly related to mating, but it serves several important purposes for these resourceful birds:

Territorial Marking: By raising their tail and exposing bright white feathers, Killdeer establish their claim on an area and warn off any trespassers. The contrast against the winter landscape makes the signal even more visible.

Predator Diversion: Similar to the “broken-wing” act, the cloacal display can distract predators by drawing their attention to the seemingly vulnerable rear end. This diversion gives the Killdeer precious time to escape or protect their nest.

Social Signaling: Some researchers believe the display might also play a role in social interactions between Killdeer, conveying dominance or even a form of greeting.

It’s amazing how these little birds utilize various behaviors to navigate their winter world. While it’s tempting to interpret everything as mating-related, understanding the broader context of their actions reveals the fascinating tapestry of their survival strategies.

Killdeer Performing Tail Flagging Behavior
Killdeer Performing Tail Flagging Behavior

Remember, observing wildlife is best done with a respectful distance and a curious mind. Let’s appreciate the wonders of nature without interfering with their natural rhythms. (I was parked on the auto tour road, photographing from my truck.)

I am always learning something new about wildlife, and this encounter with the Killdeer was no exception. Every time I get out with my camera, I’m reminded of how much is still left to discover.

Image Information (First Image):

  • Date: 12/14/24
  • Time: 12:19 PM
  • Camera: Canon EOS R5
  • Lens: Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM
  • ISO: 1600
  • Aperture: 10
  • Shutter: 1/2000
  • Exp. Comp.: +0.3
  • Lens (mm): 500
  • Program Mode: Manual

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