Begin Anywhere

Fiore Farms is as rich in birds as it is in horses. My favorites are the vivid bluebirds that wing through pastures and perch on fence posts, their sapphire feathers as bright as joy.

The aptly named bluebird of happiness

I’ve seen herons, geese, wild turkeys, woodpeckers, barn swallows, hawks, owls, cardinals—and, of course, the ubiquitous pigeons who inhabit rafters and scatter droppings to remind us that they’re occupying the penthouse suites for free.

To me, the bravest and most foolish Fiore Farms birds are the killdeer, plucky little plovers who nest in fields, meadows, and pastures. Killdeer have a unique way of protecting their nests: if a predator approaches, they walk away from the nest, shrieking with distress and dragging one or both wings as if broken. The predator follows the bird, thinking it will be easy prey; once the predator is far from the nest, the killdeer suddenly “heals” and flies away.

The “broken wing” act

Although killdeer make phenomenal Method actors, they are not equally gifted in urban planning. At Fiore Farms, they have built nests in the middle of pastures, their fragile speckled eggs in the direct path of galloping hooves. Zip, Amanda’s young quarter horse, has been making friends with the killdeer who announced squatting rights to Zip’s pasture.

Simultaneous question: “What are you doing in my pasture?”

One determined killdeer built her nest next to a busy path right by the main barn. She blew her own cover by screaming at every person and horse who walked near, puffing herself up, flapping her wings, and hopping with the ferocity of Rumpelstiltskin. I wouldn’t have been surprised if she was wielding a tiny broom.

Near the barn path, well-camouflaged, but mighty close to humans

I couldn’t resist crossing the boundary between the human and animal kingdom to photograph this feisty bird. “Why did you build your nest so close to the barn?” I asked her, trying to justify my own invasion of her personal space.

On the nest, keeping a watchful eye

She shrieked at me, then fled the nest and did a broken wing routine worthy of an Oscar nomination. I took a quick picture of her dainty eggs—four in all—and then snapped a few shots of her haranguing me from a distance.

Her beautiful eggs

“Don’t worry, I come here in peace,” I told her.

She harrumphed.

Watching me from a distance

I worried about her nest’s vulnerability to people, horses, dogs, and foxes, but she’d made her choice. She had made her nest and had to sit on it.

A few days later, as I walked Mystic past the killdeer’s nesting place, I heard nothing but silence. No sharp scolding. No screeching. No protective cry. I looked down and saw a slight indentation in the ground. The woven grass was gone, and so were the eggs.

I’d like to think the eggs hatched, but that would be childish fantasy on my part. Most likely a fox stole them; hopefully the mother killdeer got away and is now busy building another nest.

All I can do is offer her the advice that came on a card two dear friends sent me after my May graduation. I love it so much that I taped it to my refrigerator.

Well, maybe not anywhere. Perhaps somewhere further away from the barn and not plunk in the middle of a horse pasture.

I wish you safe nesting, Mrs. Killdeer.

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