A Life Lesson on Protecting the Killdeer Bird

A father shares a life lesson with his young daughters when protecting the killdeer bird while plowing the fields.

bird

Killdeer bird.

MICHELE TREMAINE

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A life lesson is learned protecting the killdeer bird while plowing the fields. 

As long as I live I will fondly remember my father plowing with horses in the 1930s on our farm near Kokomo, Indiana. The Great Depression had hit and purchasing a tractor was out of the question.

But if my father had not plowed slowly — the only option with horses — I might never have learned about protecting the killdeer bird and its ways. And I might never have known, as deeply as I do, what my father was like, for he didn't express his feelings openly.

In the spring when school was out, my sister, Betty, and I would follow my father and his plow. It was fun to walk barefoot in the fresh furrow. School books were forgotten and the magic of new life in the outdoors was opening. I never tired of it. I never tire of it now.

My father pointed out the birds and their calls by name. The bobwhite, who plainly announced himself. The red-winged blackbird, with its chirr-r, chirr-r, and the bobolink, that musically called spink-spank-spink. Thrushes and meadowlarks were plentiful, too. We knew them as friends.

One day as we were walking along behind my father and his plow, Betty and I heard the shrill cry of a bird we didn't recognize. Then off to the side, we saw a brown bird with a white breast and two dark bands on its throat flopping along on the ground. We thought it had an injured wing or leg. My father saw it too and stopped the horses.

"What bird is that?" Betty asked. "And what happened to it?"

"That's a mother killdeer, and there's nothing wrong with her," my father said with a smile. "She's faking — pretending she's hurt so I'll follow her. She's got a nest up there some place on the ground, and she wants to draw me away from it. She doesn't want her eggs or her young ones harmed. Let's see if we can find it."

We went slowly up ahead of the horses and plow, walking on the unplowed part of the stubble field, my father quietly scanning the ground. The mother killdeer was still making quite a ruckus. Then my father stopped and said, "There it is."

It was hard to see the nest because it was so much like the ground itself. It was hardly a nest at all — just a few sticks and pebbles and a little grass in a slight hollow in the ground. But it had four dark, mottled eggs in it.

"What are you going to do, Dad? You don't want to ruin her nest, do you?" I asked.

"Of course not. I'll just plow around it. The mother will come back later if we leave it as it is."

Betty and I watched in thrilled excitement as Dad got behind the plow, clucked to the horses and plowed a wide circle around the killdeer's nest. Then he went on with his plowing.

We didn't see the mother return, but some time later, Betty and I went back to check, and we found the empty egg shells. The babies had hatched and gone.

We learned a lot about the killdeer that spring. But, looking at the little circle of unplowed ground, we learned even more about our father.

Ann Poland is a retired newspaper reporter and freelance writer who volunteers at her local library in Brownsburg, Indiana.