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Archive for May, 2008

photo by .bobby

The other day, while driving home from work, I turned onto a street that is bordered by two swampy fields, with a small duck pond nearby. Needless to say, the area is populated by various breeds of birds; including mallard ducks, canadian geese, and even a heron or two.

But on this day, I became acquainted with a family whose species I haven’t seen for a couple of years.

As I drove down the street, a blur of wings flew across in front of my car, only to be followed by yet a second set of wings. A little startled by this sudden motion, I slowed down and glanced out my window in an effort to find out just what sort of bird was flapping around in traffic. In the distance I could see brown and white feathers scurrying along the ground, clearly agitated. Something was going on here.

It was enough to perk my curiosity, and also raise my concern. So I made a U-turn around on the street, and started back to where the ruckus was taking place.

It didn’t take long to figure out what the problem was. Scurrying along aside the curb were four little chicks, trying desperately to join their parents who were running alongside above them up on the grass. Unfortunately these babies were just too young and too small to be able to jump up over the curb and onto the grass, to join the adults in the field.

Studying the adult birds carefully, I quickly recognized the brown and white plumage, with the black ring around the throat (thanks to my late father, who was a big outdoorsman with a love for all creatures, great and small)…

Killdeer.

photo by curt hart

The Killdeer is a type of plover – a widely distributed type of wading bird. There are about forty different species of plover found throughout the world, and the Killdeer is probably one of the best known plovers here in the United States. It is found all over, not just close to water… in fact its breeding habitat is fields or lawns, where it nests on open ground – often on gravel. Killdeer nests have even been found in parking lots! The nests blend in quite well with their backgrounds, and the eggs themselves look like speckled stones.

Their name comes from the call they make, which sounds like “kill-deer, kill-deer, kill-deer.” They hunt for food in fields and along shores, eating mainly bugs. Killdeer are quite successful and popular because they readily adapt to living close to people; however, this make them vulnerable to being killed by cars or pesticides or other dangers which come from close interaction with humans. Killdeer will sometimes nest in the gravel rooftops of tall buildings, by which the chicks may die when they attempt to jump off the roof in order to follow their parents.

photo by *Karen

Speaking of chicks, getting back to these four running by the curb…

It was obvious that if something wasn’t done, these babies were going to meet an untimely death, as they kept scampering around, chasing after their parents as the adults flew frantically back and forth, trying to get them into the fields. They were running out into the street, and while it wasn’t a terribly busy one, there was enough traffic that I knew eventually they could get run over.

That’s when I decided to take matters into my own hands.

Pulling my car over, I parked it by the side of the road and walked up to these chicks, hoping that I might be able to somehow convince them to make a “flying leap” over the curb, or at the very least give them a little boost.

Killdeer chicks can run!

photo by ram.rom82

These little buggers took off in all directions, and it soon became clear that I wasn’t going to have much luck unless I could find some help.

In the meantime, the parents were doing their “broken wing” act… trying to lure me away from the babies. While they are not the only species of birds who use this ploy to distract predators, the Killdeer is probably the best known bird most commonly seen using this maneuver. The parent will walk along the ground dragging its wing and making distress calls, appearing to be injured. The predator, thinking this is an easy prey, will thus follow the adult and move away from the nest.

photo by rlw5663

Of course, such an act wasn’t working with me… but neither was trying to herd these precocious youngsters over the curb.

Then I noticed a man over at the pond, scattering food for the birds. I figured that he must be a fellow animal lover, and called out. He came walking over and I introduced myself and explained the situation. It turned out he worked at the local car dealership right next to the pond, and often would come down, feed the birds, and make sure everything was okay. When I described the Killdeer family predicament, he immediately responded with “let’s see what we can do.”

With the two of us working together, one on either side of a chick, we were soon able to corner them and get up close enough to where I could actually scoop up the young one and gently lift it up and over the curb to join mommy and daddy. One by one, we were able to capture and release three of the chicks into the field, where they quickly scampered off and were soon lost amongst the grass, their little downy coats blending in perfectly with the surrounding foliage.

photo by decadence_2artbar

Unfortunately, we were not able to save the fourth baby – before we could get to it, the chick ran out into the road and was run over by a passing motorist. Needless to say, I was quite upset and cursed at the driver while giving him the finger. But at the same time, I realize that this is just one of the harsh lessons that Mother Nature teaches us. It is a sad but true fact that many bird babies do not survive to reach adulthood. At least I was doing my part to try and give the remaining three a fighting chance.

Contrary to popular myth, adult birds will NOT abandon their babies if a human touches them. It is perfectly okay to handle a baby bird gently in order to place it back in the nest or assist it in some way. Most birds have a poor sense of smell anyway. So my handling the babies, which I did briefly, should do no harm.

After congratulating each other, my fellow baby rescuer and I walked back to my car, feeling pretty good about ourselves. In the distance we could see the adult Killdeer making their way through the field, no doubt leading the family along their way.

photo by Wish-I-Was

We are not alone on this planet. We share it with many other species of both flora and fauna. As a shareholder in planet Earth, we have a responsibility to take care not only of the planet itself, but of our brother and sister species. Whatever I can do to help I will attempt to do so. I’ve been known to move turtles off the road, swerve around squirrels, and escort a mother duck and her ducklings across a busy four-lane highway. I’ve taken injured opossums, rabbits, and birds to the local wildlife center. I’ve protested against the needless destruction of a forest, and cleaned up the shores along a river.

And I’ve assisted little Killdeer babies in getting over the curb.

As I drove away from that field, I couldn’t help but feel that the Goddess would be pleased. As I tucked myself into bed that night, I thought about how three little brown, black and white chicks were tucking themselves under their mother’s wing…

All because two people cared enough to stop and help.

photo by hartcurt

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