Why would a bird pretend to have a broken wing?

Many birds use a diversion strategy to protect their nest and young ones. I have seen an American bittern, killdeer, and blue-winged teal duck all divert my attention by pretending to have a broken wing. The bird hangs one of its wings lower than the other and tries to get your attention. Once they have your attention, they lead you away from their young ones. If you get too close, the bird will fly away. It will then return, flying over the area to check to see if the predator has left. When the coast is clear, the adult bird returns to its safe young.

I have even seen a great horned Owl use the diversion strategy. But instead of pretending to have a broken wing, it puffed up all of its body feathers to look as big as possible. It held both wings up beside its body, rocking back and forth from one foot to the other while hissing. It definitely had my attention! The owl was protecting its young owlets who were learning how to fly in the trees nearby.

This fun fact originally ran in Nature Alberta Magazine - Summer 2021.