I wouldn’t even have noticed her as I pulled into a parking spot for an appointment but when I got out of the car, she advanced toward me from the other side of a fence surrounding a water retention pond—that retained no water I could see—and told me in no uncertain tone of voice NOT to notice her three fuzzy balls of chicks that scampered nearby. The little killdeer mother fixed her dark eye on me and emphatically focused all my attention on her, calling loudly, demanding that I leave her premises. Or else. The father killdeer flew up as reinforcement and gamely fluttered, dragging one wing to draw my attention in his direction. The little chicks had meanwhile disappeared into the jumbled rocks that covered the slope of the would-be pond. I did very briefly look around but didn’t want to further stress the brave, self-sacrificing parents, so stepped back, murmuring what I hoped were soothing sounds, and took just one quick photo.
What were they doing in such an unpromising looking environment? Was this marginal, scrappy looking place much more in their eyes? They didn’t seem to have any competition for whatever food they foraged for among the rocks but neither had they any shelter other than their own camouflage. Was that why the mother was so vocal? I let them be, but kept them in my thoughts.
When I returned home, I looked for more information and found this description on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website:
Killdeer inhabit open areas such as sandbars, mudflats, and grazed fields. They are probably most familiar around towns, where they live on lawns, driveways, athletic fields, parking lots, airports, and golf courses. Generally the vegetation in fields inhabited by Killdeer is no taller than one inch. You can find Killdeer near water, but unlike many other shorebirds, they are also common in dry areas.
A list like that certainly didn’t preclude the barren seeming environment where I found them, though there wasn’t so much as a blade of grass to be seen among the rocks. What could they possibly find to eat? The Cornell site went on to say that killdeers are “opportunistic foragers” who feed “primarily on invertebrates, such as earthworms, snails, crayfish, grasshoppers, beetles, and aquatic insect larvae.”
I was somewhat mollified and had to trust that the parents knew what they were about but the place still troubled me. Had we no better locations for this little family? It appears they aren’t very choosy; Cornell reported that, “Killdeer nests are simple scrapes often placed on slight rises in their open habitats…The nest is a shallow depression scratched into the bare ground, typically 3-3.5 inches across. After egg-laying begins, Killdeer often add rocks, bits of shell, sticks, and trash to the nest.”
Rocks were about all they had; perhaps bits of paper blown over the fence added to the décor.
Maybe the killdeer were “just fine.” I resisted the impulse to rush over to the birdseed store and buy something for them. But I know I’ll be on the lookout for them next time I’m in that area. Willing myself to trust Mother Nature and this mother killdeer. But still feeling distraught that we pave over so much for our “convenience” and leave so little for any other beings.