Once every year we are treated to a special event here in the Maritimes. Come mid June, the killdeer parents take their babies on a trek to the water from whatever stony home they’ve built their nests.
Our property lies very close to the Atlantic Ocean on one side and a really nice pond on the other. My brother-in-law is the one who usually witnesses the annual trek, but he mentioned that he hadn’t seen them in a couple of years. My husband and I thought they’d moved on to other nesting grounds and never thought any more of it, as we have never been lucky enough to catch this march first hand. Until this year.
A couple of weeks ago my husband said to me, “Do you hear that killdeers?” In childhood, he spent a lot of time on a remote island in the Tuskets, and he’s quite familiar with the sounds birds of all species make: from swallows, to ducks, to bluejays, and yes, killdeer. I just shrugged it off. I hadn’t heard a thing–probably spending too much time with my MP3 earbuds in.
Then, two days ago he ran into the house where I was sweeping the endless amounts of shed black lab fur off the floor–again.
“The killdeer have babies!”
At first, I didn’t register the word killdeer; the crackle birds had already shown up at the feeder with a dozen babies and were stealing the birdseed from the mourning doves. “Yeah,” I said, unimpressed. I walked away, brushing the broom across the floor. Then I registered the keyword: killdeer.
Down went the broom into a pile of black fur, and I rushed to the front lawn. There they were: all three little chicks toddling across the yard and into my garden. The mommas were screeching and circling overhead, calling them toward the water that runs from a river across the road toward the Atlantic.
I ran back in the house to grab for my camera. I had no idea that the mama who dropped from the air at my feet once I got about ten feet off the front step was sending warning screeches to a baby that was a little slower than the rest. I just knew she was screeching to high heaven. I waited to see if she’d break her wing. Nope. It must be safe, I figured. If there was a baby close, she’d surely somehow come up with a handicap. Instead, she just squawked. Then she fluttered away. She squawked again. And then she repeated it.
Right about the third time, I decided to look down and I immediately groaned. The poor
babe was right at my feet. Dead, obviously. It wasn’t making a sound. It wasn’t moving–not even a tremble or quiver beneath the foot just about to step on it.
Mama sent out a few more hollers. It took me about a minute to figure out it wasn’t dead. No. It was flat to the ground, barely visible in the grass, and like any good child, it was listening. I imagined the mama was yelling at it, “Stay down. Don’t move. Stay down.”
And stay down it did. I crept away to sit under my apple tree and watch. The mama kept up her show, trying to lure me away, yelling at her chick to stay down. After a while she sensed I was too stupid to realize how close I had come to catching my dinner and called to it, confident it was safe for the little thing to come out.
It popped up out of the grass and set to running. Mama coaxed it closer. She took flight. The chick ran toward her and the thick grass in the ditch, headed to the river that’s so close to the open ocean.
No wonder my brother in law was so disappointed. It was the most divine thing I’d seen all spring.
What do you know about killdeer?