Lanky legs

On the Aug. 1 long weekend, I found myself out back of our workshop.

I had plunked my butt on the broad drive wheel tire of our Kubota lawn mower, which had just finished cutting two acres of lawn in less than three hours.

It was a comfortable spot to sit soaking up sun and watch the world go by. Actually, I was watching my son grease the wheels of a recently-purchased old hay wagon, having seen better days, which was now undergoing complete reconstruction.

In the distance, I could hear the plaintive cry of a lonely killdeer. It kept calling again and again and again. It seemed to be coming from the open garden area, beyond the potato patch, where cucumbers, zucchini, squash, and pumpkin vines were starting to stretch out beyond the edge of the lawn.

I had not often seen killdeers lately, as the grass of the surrounding hayfield gave them more cover than they really wanted, but they would visit the garden area if no action was taking place nearby. It is here that I suspect they had nested.

When my son wandered off to go check on the goats in their new extended paddock, I soon became aware of the where, why and what-for of the plaintive repeated calls. He had not left more than a few seconds when a killdeer flipped down on the gravelled yard where he was working. The plaintive cry was continued and, as I watched, obviously newly-hatched chicks came tumbling as they ran, non-stop, quite rapidly across the short-cut lawn.

When they reached the parent bird (supposedly mom), they stopped and squatted down. On doing so, they completely vanished from sight, as their camouflaging colour blended completely with the small stone gravel that had been spread on the yard.

The mother was obviously showing them how to hunt for bugs and beetles for themselves, as she dipped her bill several times, finding something that she dropped. The young ones spread out across the gravelled area and seemed to me to be quite successful, as they appeared to be gulping something down each time they moved forward on their long and lanky legs.

I was talking to a bird bander several years back, and he tells me that they can band any young bird of the plover family when only hours old, as their foot is large enough to hold the band on and the circumference of the leg, though it lengthens greatly, never changes.

The killdeer is actually a shore bird but has moved inland since the pioneers opened up the land.

In the years that I was growing up on the farm, my father used to place a stick in the ground about four feet away, but leaning slightly in the direction of the nest, in order that he could work around the site until they hatched.

The killdeer lays four well-pointed speckled eggs in a slight depression in the ground. The eggs are placed with the small end down and take 28 days to hatch. It is almost impossible to see a nest on the ground, as both eggs and bird blend in so well.

I unintentionally moved my foot just inches and immediately the young shot away from each other, flopping flat on the gravel, and lay still. The mother played a broken wing act as she left the area where the young lay camouflaged. When I looked back I could not detect a single one of them. Mother Nature seems to know exactly what She is doing.

Take care, ‘cause we care.



Barrie Hopkins