Mating Killdeer – Thanks to a Coyote

Last week I wrote about Long-billed Curlews having a Territorial Encounter but earlier that same morning I had another wonderful photographic encounter thanks to a scruffy looking, rain soaked Coyote waking up at the top of a ridge.

Scruffy Coyote just waking upScruffy Coyote just waking up – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/2000, ISO 640, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

After taking just a few images of the Coyote I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye and saw a Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) perched on some rocks on the slope below where the Coyote had been.
Alert KilldeerAlert Killdeer

I figured that the Killdeer wouldn’t be there long so I wanted to get a few photos of the bird as it perched on a boulder.
Killdeer on a rocky slopeKilldeer on a rocky slope

When the Killdeer moved to another location I was happy to have a different setting to photograph the bird in.

Killdeer going up the slopeKilldeer going up the slope

The Killdeer moved up the slope a little bit more.

Killdeer on scrapeKilldeer on scrape

It didn’t take long to realize the Killdeer was in the process of selecting a scrape because it was kicking things out of a small area.

Killdeer scrapingKilldeer scraping

The Killdeer lowered its breast to the ground  and scraped its feet, this behavior is part of the “Scrape Ceremony” performed by males and females.

Checking out the scrapeChecking out the scrape

The Killdeer left the scrape and seemed to be looking for something on the ground right next to it.

Killdeer selecting scrapeKilldeer going back to the scrape

The Killdeer then went back to the scrape and lowered its chest to the ground again.

* The images above were taken using my D300 with the 1.4x TC attached at 400mm, all were taken at f6.3, o.0 EV compensation with shutter speeds from 1/2500 to 1/3200, ISO 640.

A Pair of Killdeer near the scrapeA Pair of Killdeer near the scrape

 Then I noticed movement just outside of my viewfinder and another bird moved down to where the first Killdeer was and I backed up my zoom to 357mm so that both birds fit easily into the frame with room to spare in case one of them spread their wings or lifted off.

Killdeer on a small rocky ledgeKilldeer on a small rocky ledge

The female Killdeer moved down towards a small pebble covered ledge.

*At this point I changed my aperture to f11, and the focal length to 400mm, my shutter speed dropped to 1/1000.

Male and female KilldeerMale and female Killdeer

The male descended to the ledge.

Male Killdeer mounting the femaleMale Killdeer mounting the female

Then he mounted the female.

Killdeer matingKilldeer mating

I wish the birds had been turned slightly towards the left side of the frame in the mating images to get more eye contact.

Male Killdeer about to dismountMale Killdeer about to dismount

The male began to dismount.

Male Killdeer dismountingMale Killdeer dismounting

Throughout this series I was very careful about not filling the buffer on my memory card, I didn’t want to miss any great action because the buffer was full.

Female Killdeer after matingFemale Killdeer after mating

When the birds had finished mating the male went up the slope and the female moved down it towards the road. I’ll keep an eye on this area to see if the Killdeer used this scrape to lay their eggs.

If it hadn’t been for the Coyote waking up after a rainy night on Antelope Island I may have missed seeing the Killdeer and creating this series of images.


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About Mia McPherson

I am a nature lover, wildlife watcher and a bird photographer. I first become serious about bird photography when I moved to Florida in 2004 and it wasn’t long before I was hooked (addicted is more like it). My move to the Salt Lake area of Utah was a great opportunity to continue observing their behavior and to pursue my passion for photographing birds.


  1. This is a fantastic series of images, Mia. You have the best experiences with wildlife. The scruffy coyote is cute too.

  2. Beautifully photographed Mia, what a blessing to come across :)

  3. Great observations Mia. It is wonderful through your lens to watch this full encounter.

  4. That is an outstanding action series! Hopefully it won’t be long before you are able to capture some adorable chicks!

    • Tammy, last year I didn’t see the chicks until later because I camp a lot during the warmer months, but it is a trade off because I get to photograph so many other birds where I camp. Thank you!

  5. Wow, fabulous shots Mia! Such a great behavior sequence. Your shots make it all look so leisurely, but I bet it was a pretty quick event.

    • Elijah, this did happen very fast, I didn’t have much time to change my settings but I had to do that to get both birds sharp in some of the frames. Thanks so much for your kind comment.

  6. Absolutely fantastic. Can’t believe you caught this on tape. You have to love Mother Nature in all her glories. Carol

  7. Mia, I am forever in awe of your photography skills. Outstanding behavior images! Love the sleepy coyote capture, as well.

  8. You caught a very cool sequence and I’m glad you’re sharing your excellent photos and commentary. Looking forward to future installments of this story.

    • Thank you Bill, I do hope to take images of this pair again, although when they are nesting I will keep my distance so that I don’t disturb their normal activity.

  9. Oh my…

    hehe nice work Mia. Great photos of some…essential behavior. It’s nice to see the Killdeer is an attractive, natural-looking setting. Here in AZ they’re always on golf courses, reclamations ponds, etc.

  10. This is a fantastic pictorial documentation of your encounter, Mia. Hope you’ll be seeing baby Killdeers around later on. (Saw our FOS Killdeer just last week)

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