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C’mere little Killdeer

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There are a handful of birds that most folks out here would consider to be typical specimens for our area. Sure, we have eagles, black vultures and a smattering of ducks, but what I’m talking about are the little guys—the little tennis ball-sized regulars who fill our trees and stick around long after the spectacle birds have grown bored of entertaining us.

I had a lovely Sunday afternoon this past weekend; my wife and I got to actually sit down for a moment and enjoy the natural beauty surrounding our home. We have a small porch with a bench and rocking chair where we sat with our son and sipped our coffee after having gone to church. This was prior to the sky opening up and storming like the Hoover Dam just broke. It was still sunny out and the wind hadn’t picked up yet. The birds were out and talking to one another, most likely to warn each other against my overzealous cat Elliott. I had planned on taking a nice picture of a robin who had made her nest in my garden’s apple tree; she typically allowed you to get very close to her and the nest. Alas, Elliott decided to get his own close-up… To you bird-lovers reading this, if you have a cat, and also enjoy having songbirds about, invest in birdhouses. I used to think birdhouses were sort of an unnecessary accouterment. However, now I realize that in some cases at least, the houses are a security measure if utilized properly—that is, for birds that nest in trees.

There are those birds that nest on the ground. Killdeer come to mind. How they manage to evade danger amazes me every year. If you don’t know what a killdeer is, they are a type of bird that lays their eggs in a ground nest, typically among shale or some other hardscape. They often place it right out in the open, perhaps to have a good view of incoming threats. They are very similar if not related to sandpipers. Something unique about them is that they will pretend to be wounded by scuttling along in front of you, dragging their wings as though they are injured and persistently luring you away from their nest. If you ever get too close, well, that wing heals up in an instant and they glide ahead several yards to a more comfortable baiting distance. To me they always seem quite talkative. As I mow the yard or go about my business near their territory, they often even seem social as they attempt to get my attention to lead me away from their young.

The young killdeer share these comical traits as well. In late May there were a handful of young killdeer who had gotten just past the size of ping-pong balls and were now awkwardly scrambling about the yard, apparently not sure where to lead me. I was working at the sewer and one found its way onto the slippery black liner on the edge of the pond. As it began to scuttle away, wings flailing haphazardly above its head, it began to lose its footing on the smooth plastic. I’ll tell you, there’s nothing quite as funny as an uncoordinated fledgling killdeer with a look of sheer panic on its face as it attempts to catch itself whilst bustling away and peeping loudly with clumsy alarm.

Out here, the birds are an underrated blessing, be it their aesthetic value, their contribution to the circle of life, or their comedic value. Killdeer may not be a special sighting like the swan on the Big Eddy or even an eagle, but the way out here is to appreciate the little things. I’ll be making an effort to do so before Elliott turns my yard into a no-fly zone for songbirds.

birds, killdeer

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