Killdeer bird nests in parking lot at McHenry Outdoor Theater; drive-in sharing space after early season start

If you notice a bird acting like it has a broken wing and making loud calls at the McHenry Outdoor Theater, don’t be concerned.

It is just a killdeer, and the mama bird is trying to distract possible predators from her nest in the gravel, said Scott Dehn, who owns the Golden Age Cinemas theater.

The bird has been nesting in the gravel lot for several years, Dehn said. But this year, since he opened for weekend showings nearly a month early, the bird is getting attention from moviegoers.

“Every year, we get a little family in the exact same location. They are so tiny we don’t really notice them,” Dehn said.

But this year, customers were complaining that the bird “is running up and squawking at us,” so patrons are asking to move their parking spots, he said.

“She (the mom) is very protective of her nest and her babies,” Dehn said.

So he put up rope to block off a 30-by-30-foot area on the south end of the lot to give the bird and her eggs some space.

The bird and her babies don’t stick around too long after they hatch, “and when the babies are here, they are more entertaining to watch than the movie might be,” Dehn said.

A killdeer is nesting in a 30-foot-by-30-foot area on the south end of the McHenry Outdoor Theater. Gregory Shaver/Shaw Local News Network

Nesting in gravel is par for the course for killdeer, a member of the plover family of birds, said Matt Hayes, assistant director of the Illinois Audubon Society.

“They make their nest in anything gravel, rooftops, anywhere there is enough gravel to make a little scrape,” Hayes said. “Their egg coloration, it blends in perfectly with gravel,” so the bird tends to nest in upland areas with a lot of gravel, “and their eggs are well-camouflaged.”

The birds, he added, are very territorial and will do one of two things: screech at a perceived threat or pretend to have an injury. “Follow me, I am a tasty meal,” Hayes said. They will lead a human, a dog or a cat away from their nest, then fly back to where the chicks are. “They are very good parents.”

Hayes said Dehn and the staff at the drive-in theater are doing the right thing. “They are giving the birds the right space. Once they hatch, they are going to leave and wander off.”

Killdeer chicks hatch “fully feathered and eyes open. They are precocial. They are ready to move in a couple of hours after hatching.”

Hayes warned those who see the nesting mom and the birds not to try to feed them human food. Killdeer tend to eat bugs.

“Popcorn is a bad idea all around,” he said, “so I would avoid that.”

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