Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus)

The Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) is probably one of the best known plover species in America. Commonly seen in parking lots, fields and farms, the Killdeer is renowned for its clever predator evasion tactics. A farmer’s friend, the Killdeer is certainly well-worth getting to know. Join us as we learn more about this fascinating bird.

America’s Killdeer is a stunning bird and quickly identified. Its length measures in at between 20 and 28 cm and its wingspan at 46 to 48 cm. It is much the same size as a typical robin, but its legs are much longer. Most notable are the two thick black bands running across the Killdeer’s white chest. The rump, tail and lower back are also a distinctive orange color. The Killdeer’s throat and short neck are white and a white band marks the forehead, with a black band just above. to the side of each eye is a striking white eyestripe. The Killdeer’s wings and upperback are brown and the wings are boldly striped with white, typically seen when flying. This beautiful bird is very vocal and emits a loud kill-deeah sound.

The Killdeer has been classified as a shorebird, but it is frequently seen far off from water in pastures, on golf courses and at airfields. They are quick runners and fantastic fliers. During the summer the Killdeers nest in southern Canada, their range stretching from Newfoundland all the way to British Columbia and up to Alaska. They also nest through the United States and into Mexico. Winters are spent in Long Island and the coasts of British Columbia and the north of South America. Migration is slow and flight takes place in the day and night. Killdeers are keen insect eaters, dining on beetles, worms, grasshoppers, bugs, dragon flies, caterpillars and other creatures which cause damage to farmers’ crops. They also feed on other types of invertebrates including spiders, snails, crustacea, centipedes and so forth.

Nests are simple scrapes in the ground which may be lined. A clutch of 4 to 6 eggs is laid and incubation lasts 22 to 30 days. The hatching chicks are precocial and hop out of the nest as soon as their soft down feathers have dried. As mentioned already, the Killdeer has remarkable skills when it comes to guarding its nest and young. Should a grazing animal accidentally wander too close, the adult Killdeer will run toward the animal with its wings outstretched. If the intruder is a predator the parents will fly about, calling loudly. This is followed by a distraction display of feigning injury. This “injured” bird keeps just out of reach of the threatening individual so as to draw it away from the nest. As the predator moves far enough away from the nest and the young have had time to take cover, the Killdeer parent flies off.