Until spring of 2020, I had read passing mentions of plovers in nineteenth century British fiction but had conception of what one might look like. For some reason, though, when a bobbing bird with a banded face like a bandit turned up behind our house, the word “plover” popped up in my mind. And, indeed, I discovered these were killdeer, a variety of plover, which tend to live near water.
Though we wouldn’t wish to repeat it, being quarantined during our first spring in our country house was, in many ways, a gift. We had ample time to watch the apple blossoms unfold, the trees along the river sprout green down, the goldfinches flock to our feeder like partying bachelors, and the killdeer feign injury to lure us from their nests.
After observing this charade for some time, I ventured out to survey the field behind our house, heedless of the frantic displays of the two most prominent killdeer. The first few passes revealed nothing out of the ordinary. But several days later I (almost literally) stumbled across a breathtaking sight:
The parents’ counterfeit affliction is necessitated by the fact that they build their “scrape” nests right out in the open. Perhaps they work on the principle that the best place to hide something is in place sight. It seemed to work for this pair. For the next three and a half weeks we kept a watch on both eggs and parents nearly as vigilant as the killdeer themselves.
Then, in early June, we left for several days to visit my parents. Upon our return, I walked out into the field afternoon. At first I thought the nest had been plundered. But then I spotted them, like little fuzzy teddy bears.
Can you spot all four?
That evening I returned to find them nestled together.
We looked forward to watching the hatchlings grow, at least for a week or two. Imagine our dismay the following morning upon finding the nest abandoned. However, recourse to the bird books revealed that killdeer do not feed their young. Instead, they lead them, almost immediately, to a protected place where they can drink and forage for themselves. (Smart parents! They’re probably exhausted by the weeks of intensive surveillance.)
We were sad to lose our chicks so soon but relieved to know they were likely flourishing just fine. For weeks we tracked their probable location by the continued cries of the circling parents. Brianna thought she heard cheeping from under the lavender row once and a bevy of higher-pitched cries indicating the fledglings had taken to the air.
Wikipedia offers a detailed article on killdeer and their behaviors. It turns out we (and our killdeer parents) got lucky, as less than 50 percent of killdeer eggs survive. Killdeer don’t mate for life, but males do tend to make their nests in the same area year after year. Although we hear their piercing cries year round, the bobbing birds only recently began to stake out territory behind our house. We’re hoping for another chance soon to observe one of these magnificent, miniature works of art.