On Accidental Themes and Endangered Birds

If you’ve read Border Field Blues, you’ll no doubt remember that Rolly’s case starts when his friend Max Gemeinhardt, an avid bird-watcher, calls Rolly down to Border Field Park to investigate the damage some cretin has done to the Least Tern Preserve. There really is a bird preserve at Border Field Park and there really is a bird named the Least Tern. It looks like this:

Least Tern. Photo in Public Domain

As Max informs Rolly, the Least Terns lay their eggs in the sand, as you’ll see below.

As you’ll note from the photo, the spotted coloring of the eggs blends in well with the sand. I’m not an evolutionary biologist, but that sure looks like protective adaptation to me. Unfortunately, it’s not much of an evolutionary advantage once civilization invades and people start tromping through those nesting grounds on their way to the beach. The park keepers had to put up signs and fences to keep us away.

hotos by Bruce Fayman, CC Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Anyway, when I started writing Border Field Blues, I knew I wanted to make the Least Terns part of the story. The precarious nature of their nesting seemed important. I worked through several drafts before I saw the connection. Many of the characters in my book suffer from hazardous parenting, the fragility of their childhood, abandonment issues of one sort or another. As children, there were in constant danger, just like the Tern’s eggs. I don’t really go looking for themes or metaphors when I start writing. Sometimes it just happens.

Here’s the real question. Was I drawn to the Least Tern nests because of some subconscious idea for my story, or did my interest in the Least Terns lead me to conceive of the characters in the story?

There’s one other question, of course. Do Greatest Terns (if there are any) lay their eggs this way?


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