After their drama and their protectiveness, I monitored the killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) nest every day knowing the time of year and the parents’ behavior combined into one clear indication: the eggs would soon hatch.
Four camouflaged lives would metamorphose into four vivacious newborns. Because killdeer chicks are precocial (an advantage for ground-nesting birds), the young would leave the nest as soon as their feathers dried and their legs started working. Even better for the safety of the family, all the eggs would hatch around the same time since none of them start developing until the whole clutch is incubated.
Less than a week after locating the treasure, I rushed home from work one day, grabbed my camera and scurried to the lake. More and more I felt the parents indicated a multiple birth was imminent. And I was right.
Sunset and lack of light did little to hide three chicks huddled around the last egg. I felt like a child unwrapping gifts on Christmas morning. I had to keep our encounter short, though, as the parents needed to incubate the last egg whilst keeping the chicks warm and safe. I snapped a few pictures before retreating.
I dared not disturb them in any way. They didn’t need panic and fear defining their first evening. Besides, their parents gave me all sorts of hell—and rightfully so! There business was more important than my hope of taking pictures.
The next day saw all four eggs hatched. Two of the chicks had already left the nest; the other two still had to figure out how their legs worked.
This time I really kept my distance as the two up-and-moving chicks were running around the field with their father trying to keep an eye on them. Their mother remained with the other two chicks still in the nest. I had no interest in causing panic that might force one or more of the chicks to vanish.
I couldn’t decide which was cuter: the wild children running amok, dashing about the meadow with unrestrained frenzy, or the two babies stumbling over their own feet as they tried to leave the nest, a process of get up, fall down, get up and move a bit, fall down again, then start all over. At one point this landed both of them in a tuft of grass that, at least for their height, looked like a jungle.
Without causing panic in the chicks by approaching too near, mostly what I saw was tail feathers as the two early risers scampered about with their father in hot pursuit.
As for the two still trying to master those disproportionate legs… Well, they ended up back in the nest after realizing they hadn’t quite mastered the whole standing thing, let alone walking or running.
And that’s where I left them.
But an hour or so later when another photographer visited, the nest had been abandoned—as expected—and the entire family was nowhere to be seen.