Monday, July 11, 2011

Broken Wings

If I walk out to the road and back, alone, the killdeer seems quite calm. Note seems. For all I know, her little heart is pounding frantically in her breast as she holds fast to guarding her precious charge. But, she doesn't budge off those eggs.

When, instead, it is a family walk—The Husband, Galen, and I, the story is quite different. Either mama or papa (we are never sure which) goes into the full protection mode. We see the apparently frantic bird skittering across the drive on those stilt-like legs toward the road or, sometimes, we are even treated to the "broken wing act".

Now, what predator could resist following an injured bird hoping, any moment, to pounce on the seemingly helpless prey that pathetically flails just ahead of you? Of course, as you follow the lure, you are being taken ever further from the fragile eggs. (We tread carefully and if the silly bird begins to approach the road, we turn back. We don't want her to dash out into the road and we don't want the eggs left unprotected for long.) Whatever the path of supposed pursuit, when you, the predator, have traveled a safe distance from the nest, the bird is miraculously healed and soars back over your head to the eggs.

We had not seen a killdeer nest on our place until this year. I suspect that they were drawn by the puddles in the circle portion of our driveway. Those puddles threatened to never dry. Because there are plenty of predators around here, I have been concerned from the beginning about the chances of ever seeing killdeer chicks. More recently, I am most concerned that these eggs are never going to hatch and the poor bird will not have her babies this summer.

I did a bit of reading and learned that killdeer chicks remain in the egg longer than most bird species and neither of us can remember exactly when The Husband first spotted the eggs. Meanwhile, The Husband has blocked off the circle so a visitor will not clumsily roll their vehicle over the beautifully camouflaged eggs. We are holding out hope for a little longer. However, we are certain that mama is rapidly running out of time. Nature is full of harsh lessons and disappointments. In spite of the sadness I fear for the expectant mother, I have enjoyed having our very own killdeer educating and delighting us on almost a daily basis.

Note: This post was scheduled for publication Monday morning. During Sunday evening's family walk, we noticed that both mother and father killdeer were in attendance. Mama seemed unwilling to leave the nest to lure us away from her eggs and Dad, instead, was handling guard duty. Hmm. That has not always been the case. Then, on a slight detour from our usual path, we found what was apparently one of the precious eggs, far from the nest. Panic. We had just seen a hawk close by only moments before.

The Husband marked the location of the egg so we wouldn't step on it while I went back to check the nest and see if, indeed, an egg was missing. Mom stood inches away from the nest, but was doing her best to lure me away. Dad came back to pitch in. There were eggs missing all right. And, in their place there were fuzzy little creatures in the nest. I didn't want to get too close for a good look at the newborns. But, I smiled and celebrated all the way back into the house. Mama killdeer knows how to play bird with a broken wing, but she won't have a broken heart. (Yes, I know birds don't have broken hearts; but, hey, that is part of me that is still a girl.)


  1. You're becoming pretty good at this wildlife photography business. These are really very nice, especially the egg shot. The eggs are beautiful. This kind of photography has never been a strong suit for me because it requires patience and a good background in animal behavior. Looks like you have both these qualifications.

  2. Ken - Thank you for your kind remarks. I, too, thought the eggs were quite beautiful. I wanted to photograph them multiple times in different light from different angles, but I did not want to intrude and restrained myself, instead.

    Oh, if I had handful of wishes, I would spend one of them on my selfish desire to be a strapping youngish male probably rather than female. I would have a 500 les, at least, and I would devote myself to being very, very good at wildlife photography.

    As far as knowledge of animal behavior goes, the Internet is your friend. A little bit of observation and a few articles go a long way a in brief post. Thanks again.

  3. I love the way that you present a story, Anita. You had me hoping for the best for the killdeer chicks and family. I'm glad that they got hatched and the family has started.

  4. Paul- Considering how I feel about your writing, I consider that high praise. Thank you. We certainly were relieved.

  5. Wonderful story and photos, Anita. I especially like the photo of the eggs...that's "right up my alley." Wonderful colors and textures...very earthy.

  6. Earl - I am pleased that you enjoyed the story and thanks for the kind words for the photo. I was fascinated by those beautiful eggs.

  7. Great story Anita. I think it it always quite special when you are to be able to witness the starting of a family in nature. I have never seen an actual killdeer nest, but am famililiar with the broken wing lure. I think Robins do it also. It it interesting to think about if one species learned that technique from another.

  8. Mark - I did not know that robins used the broken wing lure, and now I am curious to know if any other birds do the same. It seems a rather effective tactic and I would think it might be used by more than a couple of species. You have sent me off on a research project. I am especially curious to know if one species has learned this from another.

    We are fortunate to see a great number of new families in our current environment, but watching the eggs anxiously and being being able to closely observe the behavior of the parent's behavior during the wait was a special treat.


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