The other day, I went walking and a killdeer (sandpiper) flopped on the ground near my feet, making a curious, broken-wing flutter. Somewhere in my childhood, I remembered seeing a classroom film about birds who do just that - they pretend to have broken wings to lure predators away from their nests. I also remembered finding an in-ground nest on my most recent camas dig, so I carefully watched my feet to avoid stepping on any eggs, but I also wanted to see them. Over the protest of the mother bird, I stayed in that immediate area and scanned the ground.
Sure enough, the eggs were in plain sight, tucked in the crook of a wooden grave-marker.
The eggs were just beautiful. The speckles made me think of a delicate watercolor painting - maybe something that I'll really paint someday.
And the mother was beautiful too. As I watched her desperate plea, I tried to reassure her that I intended no harm to her babies. But I found myself intrigued by the question of consciousness. Is it simply a mindless instinct that drives a mother bird to risk herself to save her children? Is it some form an attachment that she feels? Is it love? From the scientific mind, I couldn't answer those questions, but from a spiritual mind, it all made sense. That killdeer mother inspired me; she made me think of what I wouldn't do to protect my own children.
After watching a few moments, I wanted to see if she would lead me away. Once again, everything happened the way I learned in my childhood. When I walked toward the killdeer, she fluttered on the ground in the exact opposite direction of her nest. A few more steps further, and she fluttered again. This continued for about 100 yards until she made a 'miraculous' recovery and flew away.
But I had to laugh, because as I walked back to my car, she scolded me. The whole experience was just beautiful! It is probably strange to say, but my heart was full. I feel so thankful to have witnessed this amazing bird ritual for myself.
Below, you can see that I got a short video clip of her broken-wing act.
By the way, when I got home, I tried to think of the Salish name for killdeer birds, but I couldn't think of it. In the dictionary it has two possible words: sccíʔistšn, or sttʔitšn.