Friday, May 21, 2010

The Tiniest Heartbeat

Thursday May 20 2010

Remember the killdeer nest with 4 eggs that I roped off from the horses? Ma or Pa Killdeer has been sitting on that nest every day (for about 24-28 days). Every day I've been checking on her, and then suddenly yesterday morning, she was gone. And the eggs were gone.

From the moment of hatching, killdeer babies are "precocial 2" - downy, open-eyed, mobile at birth, and capable of finding their own food while following their parent. So they had moved out, already out in the big world.

Darn, I missed the babies - until this afternoon when, about 40 yards away from the nest near the creek, a killdeer did its broken wing display, trying to distract my attention from where I was walking. I thought there must be babies around, and I walked ever so carefully forward - until I saw it.

It was so tiny and fragile and defenseless, about the size of my thumb - it took my breath away. It was standing, motionless, silent, helpless, completely vulnerable. I ran to get my camera, then ran back - and had a hard time finding it, even though it was at about the same place, now sitting in the dirt. I held my breath the whole few minutes I looked at it, fearing I'd blow it away or scare it or reveal it to a predator.

How on EARTH do these animals survive - indeed, they thrive around here - first, laying eggs on the ground any ol' where, where they have a great chance of getting stepped on, then the babies surviving when at this stage they can certainly not avoid predators?

Doubtless there were more baby killdeer around - but I left before the dogs came galloping after me, or some kestrel happened by.

It's that ol' Darwinism thing again - I guess it knows what it's doing.


  1. Thanks for running back and getting your camera. I've never seen a baby killdeer before. How incredibly cute!

  2. Where I grew up we had kildeer. They often nested on the country gravel roads and their eggs blended in really well. As kids we would find them and then set up little markers so that no one would drive over them.