On Subtle Plovers and Obvious Turkeys

“April 13th was a bright sunny day tucked between weeks of dark showers and gloom. I decided to take advantage of the good weather to saunter down the length of Crane’s Beach.

“In front of the last high dune, a tiny piping plover scooted out from behind a copse of flotsam and jetsam and proceeded to a human footprint left by an earlier beach walker. The male snuggled down into a depression he had made in the footprint and disappeared! His gray coloration matched the sand so perfectly I could only discern his single bright black eye peeking out of the sand.”

“The week before I watched another male as he had wriggled his belly back and forth to make a subtle little scrape in the sand. Then he walked a few feet and worked on another scrape. The whole time he would be emitting his single syllabic whistle that Henry Benson called the loveliest musical note sounded by any North Atlantic bird.”

“The male also gazed comically over his shoulder into the sky to see if any female was interested in his well-appointed territory with its many alluring scrapes.”

“Meanwhile, another male had stepped inside the territory and had crouched down and drew in his head so the band around his neck stood out starkly black. This didn’t impress the male one whit. He rushed out at the intruder who ran a few feet toward the shore, then stopped. The male then ran a few feet further and stopped as well. They continued this parallel running display all the way to the shore, clearly delineating one side of the male’s invisible territory that ran from the shore up to the loose sand where he had made his scrapes.”

“By April 13th the scrapes had attracted a female and now the pair were trying to decide which scrape would become their nest. It had only taken the male a day to make each scrape, but it would take the female 10 days to decide on their final nest. The male had a clear preference for the scrape he had made in the human footprint. He was already decorating it with pebbles and bits of shell.”

“The pair would spend all summer raising three or four chicks, to the annoyance of a few humans who believed they should have dominion over all the beaches on the East Coast.”

“I could only figure out the birds’ subtle behavior by sitting beside them for several hours. Even so, it was difficult not to fall into the anthropomorphic trap of assuming the male birds establishing their territories were not actually a male and female of a traditional family pair. If more people took the time to watch these fascinating little birds more closely, they would be far more willing to share the beach with a species that is so intricately bound to this unique environment.”

“As I was leaving the beach I saw a large dark animal on a distant dune. It took a while but I finally realized it was a male turkey raising its alarmingly red and purple reptilian head and fanning his tail feathers toward a female who was a hundred feet away, running between parked cars and scores of humans to escape his all too obvious intentions.”

“Now there was a species that fit too comfortably into our anthropomorphic view of how males and females behave during courtship displays.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)