Saturday, September 23, 2017

BIRDS IN ROCK ART - KILLDEER?


Newspaper Rock, Indian Creek, 
San Juan County, UT. Photo 
Sherman Spear, 1966.

One of the joys in the study of rock art is the moment of recognition, that eureka moment in which you believe you have identified something that had been unidentified before. Located in the Canyon Rims Recreation Area next to Canyonlands, San Juan County, Utah, is Newspaper Rock, a pre-and-proto-historic palimpsest of petroglyphs millennia in the making. Imagery has been accumulating on this rock from the Archaic period down to the historic, and near the bottom to the right of center on this rock is a small petroglyph of a bird. The bird stands upright, has a plump body, long legs with big feet, and a bill of medium length.


Newspaper Rock, Indian Creek, 
San Juan County, UT. Photo 
Sherman Spear, 1966.

In looking at the birds of Utah, my candidate for the closest fit to these characteristics would be the killdeer.


Newspaper Rock, Indian Creek, 
San Juan County, UT. Photo 
Sherman Spear, 1966.

"Killdeer are a type of plover, similar to the snowy plovers that nest along the shores of the Great Salt Lake. The killdeer, however, is well at home in dry upland habitats.
Killdeer nest on open ground, digging just a shallow scrape in the soil. Gravel roads are often ideal nesting habitat because killdeer eggs blend in very well with nearby pebbles. The spotted eggs and young hatchlings are very cryptic, invisible to the eye even when they are underfoot. This dangerous breeding strategy can often lead to trampled nests. Or, if a predator has a good sense of smell, the eggs and young are easily eaten." (Larese-Casanova)


Kildeer, Public domain.

To protect its nest the killdeer uses the famous broken-wing trick to distract any predator that comes too close to the nest, leading the predator off far enough, and then takes flight taunting the predator with its call. (Larese-Casanova)

Although nominally a shore bird the killdeer is also found in dry areas throughout the West, this it could well be possible that the creator of this image had models available locally. Indeed, it has been proposed that during wetter climactic eras the dry gullies of the Canyonlands region were also riparian habitats and killdeers would have been natural inhabitants of that environment as well. So the killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) is my nominee for the identity of the bird on Newspaper Rock - Eureka. 


REFERENCES:

Mark Larese-Casanova,
http://wildaboututah.org/killdeer-the-bird-that-lives-dangerously/

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