In the foothills and forests of Spokane, Washington, there lives a deceitful little bird. The killdeer, with its amber-lined eyes and unassuming stripes, protects its nest not with force, but with weakness.
David McMath watched the killdeer’s “broken wing act” all throughout his childhood in the Evergreen State. Because the bird nests on the ground rather than in trees, its eggs are particularly vulnerable. When a predator approaches, it feigns injury, holding out one wing and wobbling in the opposite direction of its nest, luring the egg thief away.
David hadn’t seen the broken wing act in decades. He caught on as a child, running in the opposite direction of the bird to glimpse its granite-colored eggs. It wasn’t until several weeks ago that he was on a bird-watching trip at the Auburn Fish Hatchery and stumbled upon a killdeer nest built right into the gravel road.
“It was a nostalgic moment,” David said. “It’s been so long since I’ve seen a killdeer nest. I thought Spokane had a lot of wildlife, but I’ve been amazed at the biodiversity here in Alabama.”
The childhood love for observing backyard birds manifested into something greater when he came to Birmingham. David found the Birmingham Audubon Society‘s Introduction to Birding class, and the rest is history.
“The group meets for a monthly class, and there are plenty of expeditions all around the state,” David said. “The field trips give me the chance to see parts of rural Alabama I’d otherwise never visit.”
It was during one of these outings that David witnessed his most memorable bird moment to date.
“We were watching a field of about 50 wild turkeys by Guntersville Dam when, all of a sudden, I saw a bald eagle flying overhead,” David said. “The eagle, who was much larger, was being attacked by a red tail hawk. It looked just like a WWI dogfight and was amazing to watch.”
David explained that neither of the birds was hurt. It was a battle for turf, not death. In fact, he said he rarely sees birds engaged in a true fight.
Aside from field trips and sight-seeing, David enjoys the arcane knowledge that goes hand-in-hand with a niche hobby.
“I like stats and numbers, so birding gives me the chance to fill up that part of my mind,” David said. “A lot of people learn sports facts, but since I’m not much into sports, I soak up knowledge on birds and their habitats instead.”
For instance, David shared that there are 28 varieties of flowers in Alabama alone that are pollinated exclusively by hummingbirds.
“There is so much to learn,” David said. “It’s a neat feeling to walk down the street and be able to distinguish between a cardinal and a towhee calling.”
For anyone interested in learning more about Alabama’s fauna, the Birmingham Audubon Society offers monthly classes at affordable prices. Field trips are free of charge and open to the public.