LaRue: Wilson High School’s killdeer are popular visitors

Year after year, the birds find unique spots to build nests

Staff writerApril 18, 2014 

A pair of killdeer built their nest and laid their eggs at Wilson High School during spring break earlier this month — back before a pair of students gave the birds names, Charon and Chawn.

Killdeer have been nesting at the high school in Tacoma’s West End each of the 27 years that science teacher Tom Fergin has worked there. They often pick odd spots to raise their young.

“We had one nest on the berm overlooking the baseball field,” Fergin said. “Fans would come watch games and sit on the hill, and sometimes be five feet away from the nest and never see it.”

Over the past year, Wilson has had construction work done on its athletic fields, and the killdeer’s favorite nesting area was altered. The birds, however, are nothing if not resourceful.

While students were on break the first week of April, two killdeer built a nest in a pothole on a paved area between the gym and tennis courts.

“When they built the nest, the area was deserted,” Principal Dan Besett said. “Once school started again, they were right in a high-traffic area. Cars use it for a turnaround; kids walk through there all the time.”

Fergin has a soft spot for killdeer. A student told him about the nest, and the teacher put traffic cones around it, then police crime scene tape. And he took his biology classes out to visit.

The mother bird can be hard to find.

“You could easily walk by and never see her on the nest,” Fergin said. “I took all three of my biology classes out to see the nest, and there were always a few students who would be five feet away and still not find her.

“The male is usually around, watching. We’ve seen him on the roof of the building, on the grass nearby. He’s never far.”

Fergin thought having someone keep an eye on the nest, near the back of the campus, would be a good idea. He asked for volunteers and got two.

Taya Glaudé and Genesis Brown, a pair of 16-year-old sophomores, are friends, classmates and doubles partners on the tennis team.

“Since we play tennis there every day, it was pretty easy to steer other players away from them,” Genesis said.

“We’ve had a few tennis balls hit near the nest, but no direct hits,” Taya said. “We retrieved the balls without bothering the nest.”

And they named the two birds. The names are pronounced Sharon and Shawn, but are spelled with a “Ch” instead of an “Sh.”

“It flows with their Latin name, Charadrius vociferus,” Genesis said.

Taya and Genesis have taken to studying Charon and Chawn.

“It’s hard to tell the male and female apart because their markings are the same,” Taya said. “On the nest, though, the female won’t move if she’s approached. The male will chirp at you, then leave.”

Originally, there were four eggs on the nest. Now, just three remain.

“We don’t know if one hatched or was stolen,” Fergin said.

Taya and Genesis are anxious for the other eggs to hatch because they want to see the hatchlings. They’ll have to be somewhat lucky; soon after hatching, young killdeer are able to walk and feed on insects.

“They can fly in two, three weeks,” Fergin said.

Then what?

“Then we wait until next year,” Genesis said, laughing.

Charon and Chawn aren’t the only killdeer nesting at Wilson. Last week, a second pair — unnamed — chose a small flower bed for their nest, just off the main entrance to the school parking lot.

No police tape or cones were set up there. The school doesn’t want to call too much attention to the nest site — a traffic jam could disturb the birds.

It’s not as if the school doesn’t care, however.

“When our groundskeepers began mowing the lawn near that nest, I ran down and told them to watch out for the killdeer,” Besett said. “We can live with taller grass near them for now.

“The groundskeepers were all in. They said they love killdeer. We’ve got three more eggs on that nest.”

Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638

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