Lovers of the birds: Killdeer

I saw my first killdeer of 2024 yesterday, March 15, on my way to Burlington. I haven’t seen one at the farm yet. The killdeer is a member of the plover family, which are shorebirds.  

Beginner birders will learn to identify this most familiar bird easily. It is widespread in habitat. Adults have two white neckbands while juveniles has only one. Only N.A. plover with two neck rings. Tail is longer than other plovers. Reddish brown rump is easily seen in flight or display. Orange on the upper tail and lower back.  

In Flight: Tail appears bright rufous. Black wing with white tips and white band on trailing edge. Long tail displayed. Often bobs head.

Size: medium-sized shorebird, 23-28 CM/, 9-11” or as Audubon notes robin-sized.  

Status: common to abundant and conspicuous summer resident, from April to October. Uncommon in winter. Familiar plover, but not necessarily found near water. Seldom appears in large flocks.     

Range; cross Canada, south to West Indies, Mexico and Peru.

Winters: New Jersey and Ohio southwards. 

Habitat: open ground, fields, lakeshores, beaches, streambeds, wet meadows, golf courses, parking lots, short-grass prairies, plowed fields and grasslands.  Audubon classification is grasslands bird.  After nesting killdeer may be found at the margins of ponds, lakes and other moist, muddy places.  

Nesting: This is the significant feature of killdeers, nests are built on open ground, in a shallow, usually unlined depression or scrape, sparsely lined with grass and pebbles. Defended valiantly by parents who will try to lure away intruders with loud calls with scoldings  and feigns injury, such as hobbling along while dragging a wing as if badly wounded.  This trait is displayed, with variations, in other parts of the world. The motive is to lure predator away from the eggs or young.  After success, the killdeer recovers and flies off calling loudly.  Nesting most commonly in gravel parking lots, with 3-4 eggs.   Killdeer are precocial, meaning young are feathered upon hatching, generally feed themselves, often leave the nest within a day or two after hatching.  

Feeding:run and stop feeder, mostly insects, such as spiders, snails, worms, and crayfish. 

Voice: LOUD, CLEAR kill dee, kill dee, kill dee. May mimic other bird sounds such as European Starlings. Kill-DEEE, repeated endlessly. Compels attention. Scientific name is Charadrius (plover) Vociferous, latter part meaning to cry out with a loud voice; shout. Its name echoes its loud, ringing call.  Some describe the sound as a two-part kill deah. Has a variety of calls. Plover family has 60 species, found world-wide. Nine species in N.A.  

Conservation: Stable. Least concern, numbers decreasing.

Lifespan: Up to ten years.  

Resources: Birds of Ontario, Audubon Society, Stokes, Golden, Alberta, Reader’s Digest, Peterson Field Guides  

Susan Warren