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(Charadrius vociferus)
Strawtown, Indiana

General Information

The Killdeer is perhaps the most familiar plover in North America. Its arrival in March or April signals the beginning of spring. Killdeer are familiar denizens on grassy fields, golf courses, neighborhoods and parking lots where their “broken wing” display is well known even among non-birders. Killdeer are well adapted to human disturbance. Populations appear stable. Killdeer breed across most of North America extending well into Canada and parts of Alaska. Their wintering range extends across the southern tier of states, through Mexico and the Caribbean and along the coastal regions of western South America (Columbia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Peru).

Food consists primarily of insects, including beetles, caterpillars, ants, caddis flies, centipedes, spiders, ticks, earthworms, snails, grubs of June beetles and many others. By consuming large numbers of these pests, they provide a valuable service to man.

Killdeer are vocal birds. Their loud call, heard day and night, sounds like “kill-deer” or “kill-deeah.” When disturbed or young threatened by intruders, the Killdeer utters a long trilled “trrrrrrrrrrr.”

Flight speeds have been clocked at speeds from 25 to 55 miles per hour. Running speeds are around 5 miles per hour.

The Killdeer is brown above. The orange on the rump is visible when the bird is doing the “crippled bird” act. The crown is brown with a black and a white bands on the forehead. Sexes are similar.

Killdeer on nest
Figure 1 - Killdeer on nest

 Figure 2 - Killdeer

A short white supercilium stripe occurs just above and behind the eye. The collar is white, and two bold black bands extend across the chest. This is the only plover in its range that has two black stripes on the chest. Also note the red in the eye.

The two black bands across the chest and the overall color pattern are readily seen in this late afternoon front view. While this bold pattern may seem like it would make the bird more vulnerable to predation, this pattern actually breaks up the profile of this bird when it is hiding on the ground. The bird also will turn its back to the intruder to show its brownish back rendering it harder to view against the ground.

Killdeer standing
Figure 3 - Killdeer standing

Typical Killdeer nesting habitat
Figure 4 - Typical Killdeer nesting habitat

This is a typical breeding habitat for Killdeer. A Killdeer nest is in the foreground of this photo. Well camouflaged, it is almost impossible to see.

This photo moves in closer to the Killdeer nest. Can you see it yet?

Hint: It is located just above the stick near the center if this photo.

Killdeer Nest
Figure 5 - Killdeer Nest

Killdeer Nest
 Figure 6 - Killdeer Nest

Another view a bit closer. Can you see the nest yet?

Here it is! The Killdeer nest is a small scrape on the ground usually located in short grass, or on bare gravel or sand, often not far from water. The nest may contain from 3 to 5 eggs, but usually just four. The male and female take turns incubating the eggs. At night, the male most often incubates the eggs.

Killdeer Nest and Eggs
Figure 7 - Killdeer Nest and Eggs

Killdeer Eggs
Figure 8 - Killdeer Eggs

The nest is sparsely lined with twigs and grass. A nickel placed next nest to this nest provides a size scale.

Breeding Biology

Killdeer can raise two broods in a season. The eggs, incubated by both the male and the female, hatch in 24 to 26 days. Incubation at night is mostly by the male. The female incubates during the day.

Incubation begins after the clutch is complete. The eggs then hatch synchronously. The precocial chicks leave the nest shortly after hatching and are ready to feed themselves. The parents lead the young to water and guard them for another 25 days until they are able to fly.

Banding Studies

Banding studies show that these birds can live up to 6 years in the wild. If you should recover a banded Killdeer, you can report the band number and recovery information to the Bird Banding Lab by calling 1-800-327-BAND. Your report will add valuable information to what is known about this species.

Further Reading

Alderfer, J., Ed. 2006. Complete Birds of North America. National Geographic. Washington, DC. 664 Pp.

Baicich, P. J. and C. J. O. Harrison. 1997. A Guide to the Nests, Eggs, and Nestlings of North American Birds. 2nd Ed. Academic Press, Boston. 347 Pp.

Hayman, P., J. Marchant, and T. Prater. 1986. Shorebirds. An Identification Guide to the Waders of the World. Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston.412 Pp.

Terres, J. K. 1995. The National Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds. Wings Books, NY. 1,109 Pp.

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