Killdeer, Queen of Gravel

Oh, the awful, wonderful life of the ground-nesting killdeer. Every year about this time, these hardy little chirpers choose a well-trafficked area in the gravel parking lot of my office, and lay a few well-camouflaged eggs.

Mama and Papa take turns on the nest, stalwart through blazing sun, four straight days of rain, and tonight's ferocious thunder and lightning. Though their first parental decision - nesting in an area frequented by 18-wheelers - seems unwise, their vigilance against all threats is remarkable and apparently successful.

When a display of tailfeathers isn't enough to ward off would-be predators, the killdeer breaks out her secret weapon, a triumph of brains over brawn: the broken wing display. Quietly alighting from the nest, the killdeer moves a safe distance away and flops on the ground with one wing bent behind her. Her cries of faux distress fool the average housecat every time, distracting attention from the eggs or hatchlings with the promise of an easy meal. Just as the intruder gets close, "KILLDEE!" she squeals in delight, taking flight on two perfectly healthy wings.

Click here and here for the sights and sounds of the killdeer's nest defense. (If the movies don't play at first, try refreshing the page.)

Human beings can be clever, devoted, and brave, too -- but rather than adapting to our environment, we have adapted the environment to suit us. In the process, we've likely paved over and built on top of some of nature's most invaluable and inspirational lessons in how life is meant to be lived.

I'll do my best to protect this one until it hatches.

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