Co-existence requires letting go of non-essentials

Growing vegetables on a conservation site brings us into interaction with “nature,” for good and for bad. We put up a solar-powered electric fence to keep the Humber River deer herds (hordes) from grazing on our lettuce and beans, but that doesn’t help with the rabbit (so far it’s “the” rabbit, but how long will that be true?). The garter snakes keep down the vole and mouse populations, but we really need a cat or two. Goldfinches, red-winged blackbirds, and graceful barn swallows are a constant pleasure – not so much the aphids and white cabbage butterflies. (A favourite article title: “How to avoid a brassica massacre.”)

And the killdeer, in spring, are just plain in the way. They assemble “nests” (that’s not even a shack in my opinion) right on top of the growing beds, completely exposed, and sit on their eggs a month. Who has the heart to till and plant the bed then?

You can’t even come within ten feet of a nest without the parents putting up a monstrous display – a persistent piercing piteous cry (their Latin name means “notably noisy”) to draw attention as they flutter awkwardly away appearing to be hopelessly injured prey. If I were a cat or a dog I’d be after it in a second – only to be fooled as the adult, having drawn me far from the eggs in the camouflaged nest, suddenly takes wing and sings out “Kill-dee!” in a triumphant jeer.

This is wholly inconvenient.

But … the chicks, when they hatch, are endearing replicas of the adult form, reminding me of pictures of Victorian children dressed in miniature copies of a grownup’s formal clothing. They don’t lounge in the “nest” to be fed for weeks but totter around right away, getting into as much trouble as any three-year-old child. This spring, one chick somehow got across the busy road near the plots; the parents had a distressing (and noisy) time bringing it back to safety.

It turns out that, if I yield on non-essentials a bit more than usual when negotiating with a human inconvenience, co-existence isn’t difficult, and it has compensations I didn’t consider when faced with their vigorous defense of “my” carrot bed. It’s not really hard, after all, to re-plan the beds and leave working “their” area to the last. As insect-devouring champions they are superlative allies for a human raising vegetables.

And … we at the plots now know why the chick crossed the road.