Eileen Berger Indian Trail Master Naturalist
One warm, May afternoon I decided to visit the Waxahachie Sports Complex pond to record turtles for Texas Turtle Watch. As I walked toward the pond, I noticed a pair of killdeers flying around and then landing near a large, metal storm drain cover surrounded by grass near a soccer field. As I neared the drain, I heard a small peeping sound coming from the concrete box. Yes, a baby killdeer evidently had walked over the grate, and had fallen in. It was running back and forth in the concrete box, and occasionally even going a few inches down the round drain which leads to the pond.
I tried to pull the drain cover off, but of course it was bolted down. I even attempted to insert my arm into the grate, but it would only fit a few inches inside. I went home, grabbed some branches with leaves, an old fench paling, and some string, and returned to again see Mom and Dad circling the scene. After inserting the makeshift ladder through the one and a half inch wide openings of the grate, I walked to the pond to look for turtles, and to give the baby a chance to climb out. No luck. It was still on the floor of the drain when I returned .
I next decided to go to a home supply store to purchase a tool typically used to reach items on a shelf or pick up trash. I was successful, and on the way I phoned my daughter, a teacher and fellow animal lover, to ask for her help. We then began the tedious task of inserting the pincers into the grate at the same time as the bird was in that area of the box. After some 30 minutes of removing and reinserting the tool from one side to the other, she was finally able to gently grasp it and begin to raise it up. I quickly inserted my hands under it as she grasped it by the feet, and cupped it in her hands. I photographed the little bird, and we deposited it in the area of the nest. We watched the mother display the injured- bird behavior as we walked back to our cars, gathered up our tools, and made our way home.
The killdeer, Charadrius vociferus, is a member of the plover family. Most plovers are wading birds, living near water and are characterized by running and stopping abruptly. A killdeer may live near water but also will be found in many other open areas such as school playgrounds, parking lots, plowed fields, bald spots in pastures, as well as riverbanks and mudflats. The adults are 9-10 inches long, and have two black breast bands and a bright reddish rump. They are resident year round in Texas, and have a noisy kill-dee-eu given in alarm or in display flights by the male to attract females. The male and female have identical coloration. They feed on insects, earthworms and small crustaceans, and have the distinctive start-stop action as they feed. The nest is on the ground on a bare spot lined with pebbles and grass. There may be 3-5 buff-colored eggs with brown and black markings. Since the area where our baby bird lived had just been mowed, there was just a bare spot where its nest had been. Although it was very capable of running and fully feathered, the bird’s size suggested that it was quite young. We handled it as little as possible, and our last sight of it was with the mother nearby. At least for the moment, one young killdeer was safe.