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Shorebirds can be seen around Indiana

Shorebirds are a large and diverse group. Although Indiana is not known as a hotbed of shorebird activity, it is possible to see more than a dozen different kinds of shorebirds during the course of a year within the state.

It may take a little study and a bit of traveling, including a trip to the shoreline of Lake Michigan, to see all of them.

With a little luck, this goal could be reached at Eagle Creek Park if conditions are right. This year, for the first time in a number of years, it looks as if we will have some decent mud flats at the north end of Eagle Creek Park.

This spring, as well as the period from August to October, are the best months to see the greatest number and widest variety of shorebirds in Eagle Creek Park. The presence or absence of shorebirds makes the difference between a good birding park and a less than interesting birding park.

This is why those places that have a reservoir or are located along one of the Great Lakes or ocean shores have the best chance to be an outstanding birding area.

The one member of the shorebird family with which most people living in Indiana are acquainted is killdeer. This colorful bird with an orange rump and a white breast showing two black horizontal bands is almost always the first true migrant to be found in Indiana.

Birds like robins and bluebirds are no longer true harbingers of spring, for they are now wintering here in ever-increasing numbers.

The killdeer, with rare exceptions, does not spend the hard part of winter here. They are absent for at least two months. This year, as usual, the first ones were spotted or heard during the last week in February. By mid-March, they were already establishing their territories.

Killdeer are not as dependent on water as are most other shorebirds. They are often found beside a country road, especially one that is graveled. They have been known to nest on top of a flat roof or even on an unpaved driveway that is only lightly traveled.

Recently I was running errands in the northwest part of Indianapolis. I decided to keep track of how many pairs of killdeer I found in this busy part of the city. The first ones I saw were in a new development called Inteck. This group of modern buildings has some open, green areas and a couple of ponds. I would guess that three pairs of killdeer were already settled in, ready to nest.

My next stop brought me to 86th Street, to the Dollar Store and the Wal-Mart parking lot. There were two pairs of killdeer acting as if they were ready to nest. Just where they will nest I can't guess.

On the way home, I stopped at a light at 71st Street and I-465, and there was a pair of killdeer there. Six pairs of killdeer in a 5-mile drive!

One reason they are so successful is their defense of the nest when the female is incubating eggs. If you get too near the nest, the male will hobble off, dragging his "broken" wing in an attempt to lure you away from the nest.

Send birding questions with a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Bud Starling, P.O. Box 681132, Indianapolis, IN 46268-7132. Starling leads bird walks at 8 a.m. Saturdays at Cool Creek Park and 9 a.m. Sundays at Eagle Creek Park.

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