The killdeer is an actor worthy of an Oscar. If you come too close to her nest – often a shallow impression in the gravel shoulder of a country road – she feigns a broken wing and lures you away. You follow her, as do her natural enemies, but you never get near. If you walk faster, she goes faster. When she has led you away from the nest, she is suddenly healed and flies away. It works most times.

I was on a road atop a dike in Oak Hammock Marsh with my companion Colin Hay, an excellent wildlife photographer. He has an eagle eye, able to spot things sooner than most people.

It was late in spring. We were on assignment, looking for an angle to do a feature on the newly constructed marsh, today a great educational wildlife refuge north of Winnipeg, operated by Ducks Unlimited.

I was driving our Jeep slowly along the dike when suddenly Colin spotted four little eggs lying in a depression on the gravel shoulder to our right. We stopped to look.

“Don’t touch them,” Colin warned. “The mother is likely around.”

Sure enough. We stood silently. In a moment we heard it – kill-dee – kill-dee – as she flew down, landed and moved forward along the road away from us. We jumped into the Jeep and followed slowly, about 30 yards. When she thought we were far enough away so as not to endanger the nest anymore, she flew off, her broken wing miraculously healed.

Because the killdeer builds her nest on the ground, the eggs she lays are vulnerable to farm animals such as dogs and cats, and wild animals like foxes and hawks. The species was near extinction after the turn of the 20th century, but an agreement signed in 1916 by the United States and Canada provided protection that has brought the bird back to substantial numbers all across the North American continent. The killdeer is welcomed by farmers who know the birds eat beetles and other insects injurious to crops, and mosquitoes and ticks bothersome to humans and animals.

I got the information I needed to write an article about Oak Hammock Marsh, and Colin took many photographs, but the bonus in this assignment was finding that clutch of eggs that resulted in a different feature altogether, a photo essay on the killdeer published in Manitoba Moods, the magazine I edited at the time.

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