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Volume XII, Number 3: September, 2010.
Copyright © 2010. All rights reserved by the respective authors.

Editors’ Choices • Commentary • Index of Poets • 
Haiku Pages:  1,  2,  3,  4,  5,  6,  7,  8,  9,  10,  11,  12



 

Heron’s Nest Award

 

 

    a killdeer pretends
    her wing is broken
    the smell of cut hay

                DeVar Dahl

 

DeVar Dahl shows us an actual behavior and contrasts it with a human perception. The sense of scent is somehow, at least sometimes, linked to deeper feelings. Even as sentient beings with abstract thinking and figurative language available to us, perhaps it is too simple to deny any type of species' memory, or instinctive memory. People have some reflexes built in: startle, eye blink, flight (getting away), pulling away from pain, aggressive display, etc. But to different smells? Do the odors of rain, fat in the fire, or new-mown hay dwell deeper than consciousness? Or, are they learned as our newborns learn the scent of exactly their own mothers?

A drive in the country, then the smell of hay or of a mower cutting grass, maybe with clover in it? These stimuli are all called up in the cluster of feelings from Dahl's haiku, nesting birds and what will be the first cutting of the hay field.

What is pure instinct, genetically transmitted species behavior, is the old "broken wing trick" performed by some field or ground birds.This defense of nest or young is conducted by ostriches to mallards, but especially plovers and grouse. The most numerous of these plovers in N. America may be the killdeer. They nest almost anywhere on the ground: meadows, cultivated fields, gravel roadsides, even golf courses.Their nestings range across Canada down to Baja, to Texas, and from New England to Florida. Some migrate, some do not.

I have seen this distraction display by a killdeer (named for their loud calls some say sound like kill DEER!) when I was just walking along dunes, and down a wood's path for the ruffed grouse. The female killdeer (or grouse) dances a very fine line between being killed or losing its eggs, new chicks.

The hay scent may come from a place nearby, or more ominously as a farmer sits on his tractor, actually haying. Is the nest coming up? The driver might lift his mower blade to miss the low nest if he sees it. Killdeer eat only bugs and lots of them, so farmers will like this kind of resident on their land. The wing-dragging may help it but for unintended reasons.

Ground birds depend totally on camouflage, even the eggs' coloring, and motionlessness. But at a certain point when a perceived predator gets too close, the performance starts. With cries and lots of fluttering, she explodes into motion. Acting very injured and edible to a fox, weasel, or raccoon, the bird tries to drag itself away, with a stiff wing that drags too. It hops, calls, carries on, but moves ever away from the nest/nestlings. The whole little bird (killdeer are about 10 inches long, wingspan of 21 inches) is like a matador's cape. Here one minute for the charge, and gone at the last second. A killdeer may never have met a threat before. I have watched foxes hunt mice and while they have no claws for attack, they have long jaws just packed with teeth. And, they can quickly and nimbly jump. The killdeer is taking a great chance. Eventually the predator gets too close to her or has been led far enough and, suddenly well, the bird flies away.

Thank you, DeVar, for two haiku images that so quickly take me to memory and sensation.

 

 

Paul MacNeil
September 2010

 


 

 

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