Monthly Archives: June 2011


One of the regular joggers at the Fill asks me every morning, “Anything good here today?” He never stops running, so I have to shout out my answer.

“There was an eagle that caught a coot,” I’ll yell, or, “I saw a Red-tailed Hawk catch a whacking big rat today.”

“Awesome,” he’ll pant as he disappears down the trail. He likes his birds to be big and preferably predacious. The lbb’s (little brown birds) don’t hold much interest for him.

I looked up the word awesome today.  The Oxford dictionary defines it as full of “a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear and wonder.”

I have a lot of respect for raptors of all kinds, but the birds that truly inspire awe in me are the little ones that my jogging acquaintance runs right past. There’s just something about how small and yet how indomitable they are that appeals to my spirit: the Rufous Hummingbird that can speed like a bullet and stop instantly in front of a nectar-filled flower; the Bushtit that is barely the size of a golfball and weaves a nest the size of Shaquile O’Neil’s sock; the Yellow Warbler who looks like a fluffy Easter peep and has the strength to fly all the way to Central America. These are the birds that make me stop in my tracks.

Yesterday, for example, the truly awesome birds at the Fill were six Black Swifts who appeared out of the misty mountains in the east like an arsenal of black scimitars cutting through the clouds.

Black Swifts nest behind waterfalls, no one knows exactly where. They spend the winter in the far south, but we’re not sure exactly how far south. They are creatures of the wind, hunting in the sky, mating on the fly. On cloudy days in June, they wing their way from the Cascades to the lowlands to eat a few insects and then return to their mysterious haunts.

When one broke off from the flock to hover right over my head, mastering the wind somehow without flapping, wings outstretched, hanging still in the air like the angel who tops the Christmas tree, my heart stopped, my ears heard only the wind, my mouth fell open. A feeling of wonder crept over me. Awe.

A Mother’s Care

The two baby Killdeers who recently hatched at the Fill have already left their nest — a scrape in the gravel of the Dime Parking Lot  — and have begun foraging for themselves under the watchful eyes of their parents. You can see them running on their long legs amid the short grass that borders the gravel. They look like fuzzballs on stilts as they dart here and there searching for bugs and worms to eat.

Killdeers are precocial birds, meaning, the babies are born with the ability to move around and fend for themselves almost immediately after hatching. That’s not to say that they can dispense with their parents, however. On the contrary, baby Killdeers depend on their parents to show them the best spots to find food. The babies also rely on their parents to help ward off danger. Crows are always on the lookout for unwary younglings, and the Raccoons and Coyotes who hunt by night wouldn’t say no to a tasty Killdeer either. It’s a chancy world.

Parent Killdeers can’t really do much to fight off predators. They don’t have the proper equipment. They lack sharp talons and fierce beaks and don’t carry any permits for concealed weapons. Outside of freezing into a statue and hoping their browns, blacks, whites, and beiges will conceal them from predators’ eyes, Killdeer adults have only one mechanism to protect their young: They pretend to be injured themselves.

The parents at the Dime Lot are especially skilled at this. If they think I’m going to threaten their young, one of them will stick out a wing or a tail and drag it along brokenly on the ground, crying piteously to attract my attention. If I follow the “wounded” bird, it manages to stumble ahead just fast enough to keep from getting caught. When it figures it has drawn me far enough away, it leaps into the air, giving its characteristic “kill-EER, kill-EEER” laugh and flounces off, leaving me feeling foolish. “What a chump,” I can almost hear it thinking.

I am glad to let it think so. I’m a parent, too, and I sympathize with the birds’ efforts to keep their kids safe, no matter how much they dart out from cover.