Nearly every day since their arrival about a month ago, I’ve been diligently aware of their activity. I could hear their high-pitched calls even from with inside my home. They called to one another every time they were ready to switch egg-sitting duties. It was incredible watching their behavior, which became as consistent as clockwork. I even calculated the frequency they would trade off, which was at just about 30 minutes intervals.
We’d watch the exchanges take place from the patio. There is a retention pond in the property adjacent to ours, which we can see in the distance. Every time a killdeer parent switched off of the nest, they’d almost always fly towards the pond. I knew it was time for a switch when I could hear a particular call. After some initial calling from the sitting parent, soon afterwards you could hear a distant reply. Then as always, the off-duty made their appearance. It was a beauty to watch! Killdeer egg incubation is usually around 28 days. So we were expecting them any time now.
About a week ago we took off on a short 6-day backpacking trip and it left us to wonder if we’d miss the chance to see the hatchlings. We grew accustomed to their presence and I, for one, felt honored to be able to watch this process take place right in front of my home. When we returned home from our hike, I was delighted to see they were still around! And later that evening, I noticed a change in their behavior which I recognized from our dining window. Grabbing my camera before heading to the patio to confirm, it was just as I had suspected… “They’re hatched!” Noticing through the lens of my camera a tiny, puff-ball killdeer hatchling with wiggly longs legs. At first I could only spot the one baby. But then spotted another two. The other two didn’t seem as precocious as the first hatchling who wandered about more sure of himself. The others stayed closer to the nest curiously venturing out from time to time. The parents seemed flustered. Unsure of whether or not to walk about with their young or continue to sit at the nest. They have after-all been habitually trading out nest-sitting duties for around a month and seemed devoted to keep doing so. And one last time, I was able to watch as they swapped nesting duties. Which I was able to capture on video:Killdeer Hatchlings from WildFeather on Vimeo.
The hatchlings seemed restless, however. Torn between the comfort of huddling under mom or dad and their curiosity to explore their new world! This made mom/dad very uneasy. It was amusing to watch the new parents try as hard as they could to keep their babies in the nest. At one point the sitting parent grabbed their little one which wandered a bit, by their foot, dragging the baby back into the nest. It was very comical and made me laugh! The sun was setting. It was getting darker and I knew I’d have to wait until morning to know if the 4th egg had also hatched.
Update (next day) July 1st:
They were the first thing I thought of upon wakening the next morning. Already knowing, I had to be sure… As expected, they had all left. Alas, they made it. At least they did all hatch. Looking at the nest site, I can barely see the mottled egg shell fragments. They were gone. Off to face their new lives!
It was such a pleasure watching this dedicated pair trade off nesting duties over the past 4 weeks. They worked so diligently through the blistering hot June days, the threatening presence of ravens and even stray cats. We had watched as they faced every potential danger to their nest with action, utilizing tirelessly, the broken wing display.
It felt as though they had become my family. I am truly sad to see them gone. After no longer being able to hear their sweet calls and exchanges, which I had heard nearly every day this month, I felt as if a hole was left in my soul. And I imagined being able to run off with them to face life’s new adventures.
Of course, I felt greatly honored to have been their ally. In making sure they were safe from traffic. But I still miss them.
It’s truly amazing what wild you can find and enjoy from even within your own front yard.
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