Several years ago I lived on the high planes of eastern New Mexico with my wife and two teenage daughters. Our home was more than 4,300 feet above sea level, and the land was flat as far as the eye could see. There weren’t many trees. The weather was pretty severe at times, and the wind blew quite a bit.
There were some advantages to living on the high plains. We lived near a small town and life was slower than it is near larger cities. There was time to enjoy family and God’s creation. We could take long walks along the fields of feed corn and winter wheat. It was mostly sunny all year long, even during the winter. There were spectacular sunrises and sunsets. Our home was also located directly in the center of one of the main migration routes for birds that fly south for the winter.
We owned a couple of acres of land; and couldn’t afford a tractor, so we kept the grass cut with a push mower. It took a while to do it this way, but it was good exercise.
One day, as I was mowing toward the back of the property, I heard the high, shrill cry of a killdeer (see description at end). New to the area, and unfamiliar with this type of bird, I stopped to listen to the unique sound of this bird’s call.
There, about 20 feet to my left, was an adult bird about the size of a large sparrow. She had a white chest, brown wings and back feathers, and a white stripe along both sides of her head. The killdeer had dark stripes across her throat that almost looked like necklaces. She was limping along the ground, with one of her wings dragging as if it were broken. I immediately stopped the mower and walked toward the bird to see if she was O.K.
As I got nearer, the bird hopped slowly away while keeping her eyes on me and dipping her apparently injured wing to the ground as she went. I kept following, trying to get close enough to see what her injury was. Then, when she had led me about 100 feet away, she suddenly took flight, and landed in a small tree nearby. Deciding that she must be fine, I headed back to my mowing.
When I got to the mower, I heard the same distinct cry from a different direction. Again, I saw an adult killdeer. And once again the bird was hopping and dipping its wing as if injured. At first I thought this was the same bird, but it led me away in the opposite direction. This one also led me away for a distance, and then took flight. Puzzled by this strange behavior, I turned around to get back to my mowing. Then, about 10 feet in front and in the direct path of the mower, I saw the first killdeer popping her head up out of the tall brush.
As I got closer, she jumped out and again started the wing-dragging hop away in the other direction. Finally it occurred to me that these birds were trying to lead me away from the area I was mowing. As I got nearer to the spot, both birds flew up near me and frantically began the crying and wing-dragging routine.
I knelt down at the spot where the bird had come out of the brush, and slowly pulled the overgrowth to the side. I noticed a small hollow under the grass. Then I saw eggs. They were light brown with a slightly pink tint, and speckled with black dots. The mower was about 10 feet away and pointed directly at the nest. The mama and papa killdeer had stopped me just in time.
Had I not heard the cry of the first bird and stopped, I would have mowed right over the nest, destroying the eggs. I quietly rolled the mower back toward my house. The killdeer stopped their shrill crying and cautiously watched me leave. When I was some distance away, I turned back to see the two parents returning to the nest.
I left the mowing alone for another week and a half. Finally, I decided to finish the job before the grass grew too high to be conquered by my little mower. I figured I could mow around the nest, leaving the one spot alone until the birds were hatched.
As I approached the spot, I expected the mama and papa killdeer to once again fly out. But all was silent. I went to the nest and pushed back the grass to look in. All I found was open eggshells. How quickly the birds had hatched and grown large enough to leave the nest!
As I resumed my mowing, my thoughts returned once again to the killdeer. I thought about the sacrifice they were willing to make so their babies could live. The mama and papa killdeer risked their own lives to save their babies. I thought about my two daughters, and knew that I would risk my life if it were necessary for them to live. Then I turned my thoughts to our wonderful heavenly Father.
I thought about a God who shows us His mercy and grace through the creation around us. And, with thanksgiving, I thought about the wonderful gift of Christ.
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