In the Oregon Siuslaw National Forest, I came to know the American Killdeer, also known as Charadrius vociferous or plover.
A small tawny bird with brown wings, white belly, and black bands across the chest and face, it chirped and flailed one wing as if broken, a performance perfected to lure predators away from the nest; a true thespian.
The Killdeer had chosen its nesting ground on a gravelly path in a lush green valley with a river full of spring rain, not yet parched by summer heat, surrounded by hills and newly budding apple and willow trees.
Apart from being home to the Killdeer, this spread of land is also a mighty host to all kinds of life, including ducklings, turkey vultures, a resident herd of elk, the occasional elusive wildcat, two farm dogs, 18 sheep, three horses, one kitten, and two dear human friends of mine, together tending land and flock here in the belly of the coastal forest. The aboriginal dwellers of these lands were the Siuslaw and Kalawatset peoples.
Like many valleys in the Pacific Northwest, the beauty of this particular valley is sobered by clearcuts on the surrounding hills and the early morning rumble of logging trucks. While National Parks are legally protected from logging, mining, drilling, and other private company interests, National Forests are not. And so, the Siuslaw National Forest is a nexus of wild land, agriculture, and industry.
The Killdeer has made a home of places like this, adapting to human influence, and hiding their precious nests in plain sight, in fields, valleys, driveways, gravel paths, and even airport strips, making them vulnerable to the many hazards of ground nesting, especially injury by vehicles and pesticides.
There are no plush nests in high places for the Killdeer. It has made an art of action to distract any predators by putting itself in harm’s way to protect its young.
The Killdeer paused its charade and abruptly righted itself, moving up the path at a safe distance as I followed. It finally took flight, letting out a piercing two-syllable call and disappearing behind the pink apple blossoms, the sound of its wings lost to the gurgle of the river.
As I retraced my steps, I came upon a modest nest scraped into the path, lined with bits of twigs, moss, and tree bark. I may not have seen it at all if I had not happened to look directly at my feet. Despite the mist and rain, the four gray speckled eggs were completely dry, as if warm; perhaps recently incubated by the warm underbelly of the plover. Vulnerable but protected.
~ To teach love and appreciation for nature is to protect our beautiful planet into the future ~
From my heart to yours,
OMEC Board Member