When I go back to my girlhood home I find I am amused by the everyday things. Like killdeer birds. Today I’m posting from Northern California where I am visiting my parents for two weeks. In their early 80s they still live on County Road P in the old farmhouse that I was raised in. Each morning I start my day by walking along the country road to their mailbox and back, it’s 1 ½ miles round trip. One morning I found a killdeer nest in a pot hole in the road.
The killdeer are as familiar to me as my old bedroom but until this trip I never bothered to pay much attention to them. They are so clever the way they fake a hurt wing or a broken leg trying to distract me from finding their nest. And they get their buddy birds to help. It has become a morning ritual with me and the birds. As I approach, my shoes crunching in the gravel as I walk, they begin their antics – ‘I have a broken wing, help me, help me’ they seem to cry. As I near the nest, which I can’t even see, they become more dramatic and other birds arrive to back them up. A group of three or four birds will begin to swoop in a large circle overhead. Meanwhile more birds, on the ground, run ahead of me, calling out “twrrreee da da da da da” tapping out the syllables in a clear shrill tone.
What the birds don’t know is that I know right when to start looking for the nest. They tell me when I am very close because the air becomes quiet and the swooping birds drop to the ground. Are they giving up? Are they so used to their nests being destroyed that they don’t even care?
You may think they are lousy nest builders and bad parents. All they do is scratch a divot into the loose rocks, call it a nest and lay their eggs. It isn’t very cozy.
My dad told me they build their nests close to the road because they want the heat of the asphalt to keep the eggs warm. Is that selfish – to let the road hatch their eggs so they can be footloose and fancy free? Or is it smart? After all the eggs certainly stay warm while the mama bird is off the nest getting food and water. But 100 degree days are common during summers in the Sacramento Valley, do the eggs ever get too hot?
I found the nest in the road when I sidestepped around the pothole to avoid turning my ankle. I almost stepped right in it. The next day as I approached the nest the birds were up to their usual song and dance – except for one lone bird. As she cried out “twweeee da da da” there was a mournful undertone to her song. I peeked into her pothole nest and saw one egg was missing and the other three were smashed, the yolks tinting the stone nest a bright yellow. Looking to the edge of the road I saw her and I asked, “Well, what did you expect? Haven’t you ever heard the old real estate saying – Location, Location, Location!”? She let out one more sad “twreee da da” and flew away.