The killdeer is a strange bird, perhaps this is an axiom for birds in general, to be strange is part of being a bird. Different calls, different habits, different coloration, different kinds of nests.
To love birds is to love the quintessential zeal of the life force. To suspect one can substitute watching birds for going to church and gain a world of spirit and glory and godliness necessary to worship and of being good. If only to take that moment to watch birds, or if you prefer the other word… worship.
Killdeers are among that deliberate sect I call farm birds. There are many birds to this congregation that cohabit and dwell with agriculture. Crows come to mind, pigeons, sandhills, the host of sparrows and starlings who inhabit every shed, granary and barn where farmers are known to convene.
Swallows require special mention here, barn and tree swallows. Barn swallows as fill the milking aisle with their living exuberance at the combination of mud and manure. The barn of my youth was an exaltation of barn swallows who flitted over the cows at milking time. Darting like missiles, then with their humming-bird-like ability to hover at the nest site.
The mow joists were plastered with their adobe dwellings as was the barn’s eave. My theory being the combination of barnyard manure and mud was an ideal building material more worthy than manure-less mud. As I am a vegetable farmer I have thought of importing a generous quantity of manure to mix with the local puddles to better favor swallow nests.
Tree swallows attend every field chore of tractors. Diving off the front bow of the tractor like so many Messerschmitt’s preying on B-17s. Initially there is the fear of collision for they fly so close; it never happens. Their objective is the insects disturbed by the tractor’s passage, most of whom the tractor driver can’t see. To wonder at the acute vision of birds in general, the hawk to see a deer mouse from 300 feet overhead. An owl researcher found that an owl could make out a mouse in a dark warehouse lit by one candle.
Killdeer are the companions of the plowed field. From about middle spring in that multiple pageantry of cultivation, planting and side-dressing, killdeer are there trying to stake a claim. Of all birds the killdeer nest is a study of ultimate efficiency. Recently we recovered a blue jay nest that some antic jay had built in a lean-to tractor shed. In the trusses over the machinery was the construct of a classic blue jay nest, the signature uncouth jumble of small twigs gained from a Chinese elm growing nearby.
I had my granddaughter Emily count the twigs that constituted this nest, to cite here that Chinese elms are generally disfavored for their messiness. Always shedding small limbs such that the Chinese elm is not a tree choice of most home owners. It appears always to be dying. But to flavor the farmyard the Chinese elm will grow nicely among the barrels of waste oil. For most tree species this is a toxic site, not so for the Chinese elm. It is this particular tree that is growing to either side of the farm’s fuel pumps.
Surrounded is a hard packed rotten granite driveway, the occasional spill, the slop of the oil can, we often grease the equipment at this site while fueling, the Chinese elm is doing quite nicely. A touch of shade on a hot day. As the ubiquitous and ever-valiant, the Chinese elm is a tree that will one day render Mars and Venus habitable. Only to add kudzu and quackgrass and we’re on our way to plough layer.
The killdeer has no shame. The killdeer never took a home-ec class. The killdeer does not watch “This Old House” on PBS nor subscribe to Better Homes and Gardens. I have for some years collected books on “hippy architecture.” What people who are born without style points can do to build a house out of landfill materials. To end up with fairy-like dwellings resembling habitations for Hobbits. The killdeer is of a mind to be even cheaper than this.
I have examined numerous killdeer “nests” to determine if any arrangement at all is evident; perhaps a pebble is moved, at best there might be a slight hollowing of the site to nestle the eggs. Beyond this dimple in the ground the killdeer nest is smack in the middle of nowhere. To recount the many times I have looked straight at an egg-occupied nest and not seen it. That well blended to the sand and gravel surround of the Central Wisconsin Wash.
Whether this nest is the epitome of laziness and/or stupidity, or the neatest design strategy of all combined with energy efficiency is a question, I don’t know how to answer. To confess I am a happy farmer to live in the same kingdom as charadrius vociferous, the two-ring plover, or if you prefer… the killdeer.