[TN-Bird] Another Black-necked Stilt Story

  • From: OLCOOT1@xxxxxxx
  • To: birdky@xxxxxxxxxxxxx, tn-bird@xxxxxxxxxxxxx, albirds@xxxxxxxxxxx,ARBIRD-L@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx, BIRDCHAT@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx,marvdavs@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Mon, 21 Jul 2003 13:37:39 EDT

July 20, 2003
Ensley Bottoms
Shelby Co. TN


For those of you that enjoyed the photos of the flooding Black-necked Stilt 
nest, here is another little tidbit of behavior you might look for around 
nesting BNS. By the way the nest was saved and both parents are still taking 
on the nest.

Another day in the life of a Black-necked Stilt family���..

One saga after another, takes place in the lives of Black-necked Stilts. 
Earlier in the week on a quick trip to the Earth Complex Lagoons in Ensley 
in Memphis, I saw many Black-necked Stilts with broods of young that ranged 
in size from balls of fluff to gangly legged teens. There are now too many to 
keep track of as these groups move about and change territories. There is much 
mixing and shifting, as good habitat dries and shrink, families have to be 
moved. One pair with 3 young, less than a week old, caught my eye. They fed 
a wet shore out in the open on a very large pit. 

On Saturday when I returned to scan the ever-growing numbers of returning 
shorebirds, I noted only one young remained. Which of the many dangers had 
the others? Was it the weather, Mississippi Kites, turtles or one of the other 
predators that abound in the wild here?

While scanning the thousands of newly arrived shorebirds, I kept hearing the 
softer calling of a pair of Black-necked Stilts. It was a lower call, unlike 
the normal alarm call nor was it attracting any other adults as an alarm will 
do but it was steady and relentless.

I finally scanned the far side and located the pair that now had only a 
single chick and noted they were flying slowly in a wide circle with their legs 
lowered but flexed, hanging below the body. I recognized this flight mode and 
knew they were trying to move the young bird to a new location. I guess they 
decided enough was enough and they had better move the bird to a more secure 
location with cover. 

Usually it is quite easy to move the young although they are very independent 
and will separate to great distances when feeding. The slow helicoptering 
flight is used to coax the young to swim across open deep water and evidently a 
pretty hairy first time experience for the young. The adults use a couple of 
methods in doing this; one adult will stand on the far ground in the line they 
want the young to go while the other does the flying with both adults 
continually calling. The flying bird will circle the young bird in a wide 
circle and 
come in from the rear and swoop over the young, sometimes so low as to make the 
young bird duck. That gets there attention. It will then fly low along a 
straight line toward the other adult. The youngster usually moves in that 
direction. The circling continues and some time both birds are in flight but 
eventually lands on the distant shore.

The young chicks are very buoyant and will float high in water but here at 
the lagoons the sludge filled water has a gooey consistency. This has been the 
downfall of individuals of many species that have inadvertently fallen into the 
goop. The heavier adult shorebirds tend to sink lower and once covered lose 
the thermal protection of their feathers and if they can't get to clean water, 
they usually succumb to the drying mess that becomes almost cementatious.

This young bird would get to the softer edge material and start to sink and 
would struggle back to dryer land and one of the adults would eventually take 
pity, land, kneel and take the young one under its wing. I was in the area 
almost all day and watched this scenario replayed again and again. This young 
really did not take to the idea and would rather feed and be cuddled than 

The next day Mike Todd had joined me and on the first pass around the 
lagoons, I did not see the adult or young and told Mike about the episode and 
wondered how it had played out. Later as we scanned, I heard the calling and 
the birds at the same location as the day before. I told Mike to watch what 
was taking place and to look down the line of flight and he would find a young 
bird. We watched the same thing happen that I had watched the day before. The 
parents were adamant that the youngster had to move as the Mississippi Kite 
numbers were growing as the dragon fly population rose up into the heated air 
the young bird was just as stubborn and did not like the idea of this new 

After 20 years of watching these Black-necked Stilts raising their young here 
at the pits, just last year, I had confirmed a suspicion. Mississippi Kites 
do take the young on occasion and last year at least two of the many kites had 
taken a liking to these chicks and I had watched them snatch the young from 
the ground.

Just as the day before, one of the adults would brood the young and all would 
be quite but within the hour the scene would be replayed again. About noon I 
noticed the looping flight was now over the water and I could not see the 
young bird. We circled closer and finally in the scope located just a small 
slowly but steadily heading to the adult female standing on the shore. The 
little one would stop and rest and now as it came closer to shore both adults 
stood together cheering the youngster on.

We were able to get a few shots of the bird as it approached and a quick 
couple as it made landfall and then left the birds to their next task, to move 
the nearest clean water which was about 100 yards away across a road, then a 
ditch and another road.

Late in the evening Mike and I parted the weeds and peered into the pool and 
were immediately greeted by the two adults with a great clamor. We saw the 
single young fuzzy chick cleaned up and fluffy, dozing in the edge of the grass 

Just another day in the life of a Black-necked Stilt family and a task very 
well done.

Good Birding!!!

Jeff R. Wilson
Bartlett Tenn.

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  • » [TN-Bird] Another Black-necked Stilt Story