Nesting killdeer stop construction in McCabe courtyard

Nesting killdeer stop construction in McCabe courtyard

A pair of Killdeer found the partially constructed courtyard at McCabe Elementary School to be the perfect spot for its nest of four eggs. (Breeze photo by Jacquelyn Moorehead)

SMITHFIELD – Construction at McCabe Elementary School is in full swing, but one section of its courtyard remains untouched thanks to a pair of nesting killdeer, a protected migratory shore bird.

Chris Spiegel, a project manager with Colliers International, quickly became an expert on the bird when construction began at McCabe last year. He said he first noticed the long-legged birds in McCabe’s fields last May and June, though their presence at that time did not interrupt work.

Pairs of the birds began returning around two and a half weeks ago, Spiegel said, with one landing in the newly enclosed courtyard at McCabe.

The courtyard is in the early stages of construction, with uneven dirt and rocks strewn about and a small retention basin in one corner. Pink spray paint indicates where a walkway will eventually be built. But for now, crews have halted work.

“This is kind of an ideal habitat for them, so we’ll make sure they’re safe,” Spiegel said.

The brown bird blends in well in the dirt and rocks, but can be spotted by its white head with black bands around its neck.

“They’re actually right on top of where a manhole should be. That can wait,” Spiegel said.

Spiegel said he contacted several environmental protection agencies and the Audubon Society before getting a stern reply from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that protected birds under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in the U.S. can’t be disturbed.

Killdeer are neither endangered nor a threatened species, and are a common species. The birds lay nests in open spaces.

Spiegel said he quickly fashioned a “quarantine” zone for the birds using three traffic cones and a line of caution tape.

He read up on the little birds, who are a type of plover known for having tiny bodies and long legs. The pair at McCabe laid four eggs, and Spiegel said the eggs will hatch in about four weeks.

Even with the measures to protect the nesting birds, Spiegel said, construction at the elementary schools is running on schedule, and he expects all three schools to be completed on time.

Spiegel said a nesting killdeer will perform an expertly executed broken-wing display to attract predators away from its eggs or hatchlings. While sticking out its tail feathers, it will make a sharp chirping noise, echoed by its mate.

Unlike other birds, he said, killdeer immediately get up and start walking around after hatching. Then, the parents will usher the hatchlings off and away from the nesting site.

Spiegel said that last year, one of the birds at the school was named Judy after Supt. Judy Paolucci. This year’s birds haven’t been named yet.

Paolucci said now that the courtyard is closed off due to a new addition, she is not sure how the baby killdeer will get out, since they won’t be able to fly for several weeks. Until then, she said, the killdeer are safe in the courtyard.

“I’m sure we’ll figure it out,” she said.