What’s good for the goose…


A killdeer chick

A killdeer chick

Birds of a feather

According to Wikipedia, the killdeerfrequently uses a “broken wing act” to distract predators from the nest.” According to every summer since my family moved into our home in Waukesha, WI this is 100% true and incredible to witness firsthand.

I don’t know how many killdeer nests my parents have in their yard as I’ve only ever seen one of them and I don’t know how territorial they are, but I do know there are usually between 4 and 8 adults living on their property every year, and every early summer they’re accompanied by baby killdeer that are just about the cutest winged things you have ever seen in your life. Love those long stick legs!

Killdeer nest on the ground (we mow around them) so they’re regularly low enough for the casual observer to take a good long look at them, plus their long legs keep them high enough off the ground that they’re easy to spot running around, and they pull that “broken wing act” any time you’re within 20′ of their nests so they’re perfect for seeing Nature’s brilliance in action. They’re great birds. Move near some.

I was at my folks’ house this past Wednesday afternoon when my brother came home and said he’d just run over a baby killdeer on the driveway. He hadn’t seen it in time to avoid hitting it and clearly felt pretty badly about the whole thing. I surely do love that young man. I didn’t want the dog to go bothering the body, so my brother and I walked down the driveway with the intention of moving it into the bushes to either decompose in peace, or to become the meal of something a bit more used to hunting than my family’s spoiled shitsu bichon.

When we reached the chick we discovered it was still alive but had a badly broken leg. I scooped the bird into my hands. He was warm and soft, and so young he didn’t have feathers yet, just down that looked and felt like fur. He opened his beak the tiniest bit, a piece of brown grass still in his mouth, to let out a few quiet chirps as I checked his body with careful fingers. His right leg was fully dislocated, and bleeding.

I kissed the air above his head and wondered if I could kill him myself to put him out of his misery, but I knew I couldn’t do it. What if I made a pig’s ear of the attempt and just ended up injuring him more? And even if I was able to do it quickly and efficiently… I just don’t have it in me. So I said “Thank you Jesus for birds” and laid him in the bushes near his nest so the mother would at least have all her brood accounted for even if one was going to die.

I went inside the house with my brother to wash the blood off my hands and to find my dad to “take care of” the bird, but he wasn’t home so we did nothing with it. I felt equally sick at the thought of killing it or just leaving it be when it must’ve been in so much pain. Accidental deaths of innocent animals just breaks my heart.

All these terrible things going on in the world- war, famine, disease- and this is what makes me cry? But those other things– they’re just so big. So enormous and distant that I can’t wrap my head around them. And if I could, what then? Stop weeping over wounded animals because it’s not the worst that can happen? I am so glad there are people in this world like my Mimi or like my friend Stephen who have a heart for those who are suffering, who have the strength to do more than just weep, and who have the guts to actually do something about that suffering. And me? I guess I’m just the type to love the people I’m near, and get all teary-eyed over broken birds.

When God closes a door he opens a window to let the geese in

I was at the park today with friends when we overheard a woman who works at the park telling a coworker about a Canada goose nearby that sometimes follows her around and whom she had named Geraldine. My friends and I saw the goose to which the woman was referring, but we assumed it just liked to be nearby to catch fallen picnic fare and continued on our way.

We stopped at the end of a sidewalk near the park’s primary boat landing to get a better look at the water’s edge, when I noticed “Geraldine” peeking out as us from behind a lamp post. We stood watching her pecking away at the grass beneath her feet for a moment before picking some leaves ourselves and holding them out to her. She seemed a little unsure of us at first, but that didn’t last long and soon we were sitting on the ground testing different types of greenery on a very friendly, hungry Geraldine.

Feeding Geraldine

Feeding Geraldine

We offered her wide stalks of water grass, but she didn’t seem to care for it. We tried flower pods and thistle blossoms, but those were also a no. She seemed to enjoy the round leaves (read: weeds) that grew throughout the lawn, and the long blades that grew up between the sidewalk cracks and in the gravel along the river’s edge. She was also a big fan of our shoelaces. And pant legs. And bracelets. And leaning against our legs while looking us straight in the eye. And having her sides and belly rubbed. She even let me slip my hand between her wings to give her a nice long scratch after she’d done so first with her beak.

We must’ve sat there with her like that for at least an hour, feeding her grass, rubbing her belly, and studying all her weird little details. Her feet? Feel like leather. Her tongue? Edged in sharp grooves like a serrated kitchen knife. Strangest thing. And she never once hissed or tried to bite, though if we offered too short a piece of grass our fingers were likely to be included in her delicate little chomps. And she was personably vocal, offering sweet barking sounds when she wanted more grass, quiet honks as she wandered between us, and kind silence while we stroked her beautiful back. Another surprise to me was how wet her mouth was. I don’t know why I expected her to have a dryer tongue, but whenever she’d catch an errant finger it would end up dripping with goose spit. Who knew?

A little girl of about 5 or 6 and her brother of about 4 were out walking in the park with their grandparents when they spotted us. We invited them to come pet Geraldine, which they loved for a solid 2 minutes before running onto the pier to chase ducks. About 20 minutes later, while laying in the grass with Geraldine’s warm body nestled in the crook of my armpit where she sat munching on leaves, a girl and her boyfriend rode by on bikes and stopped to ask if this was our pet. The guy stayed on his bike, but the girlfriend was only too happy to come down and pet and feed our new pal, an enormous grin on her beautiful face. There is just nothing like something feathered and friendly to bring a smile to people’s faces. Just nothing like.

Thank you, for Geraldine.

“My sister birds, you owe much to God, and you must always and in everyplace give praise to Him; for He has given you freedom to wing through the sky and He has clothed you… you neither sow nor reap, and God feeds you and gives you rivers and fountains for your thirst, and mountains and valleys for shelter, and tall trees for your nests. And although you neither know how to spin or weave, God dresses you and your children, for the Creator loves you greatly and He blesses you abundantly. Therefore always seek to praise God.”

– from Fioretti di San Francesco d’Assisi

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6 comments

  1. Wow, compassion is a beautiful thing, and you’re an amazing writer…I’m gonna be up in Milwaukee area possibly in two weeks, what’s your email addy?

  2. you give what you can give, and that’s a lot too. i wish i could be brave and do more too! it’s a beautiful bird entry! :)

  3. Stephen! Milwaukee! And this time I will make sure I’ve got the right date so if I miss seeing you it’s for a good reason and not just because I was a week early. :P I’ll email you off-blog. :D

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