Killdeer: Migration Monday!

Hello everyone! Welcome to Migration Monday! In this new feature we will learn about birds who are migrating due to the spring season. Our first bird is the Killdeer.

Yesterday Dave and I were driving to the grocery store and were making a u-turn to get on a major highway. As I was approaching a stop sign I saw a little bird in the grass. I said,”Oh look, it’s a…killdeer??” It’s a killdeer! What is he doing here?”. He was running along the side of the highway and crossed the street (don’t worry, he made it across the street safely!). I was expecting maybe a robin, or cowbird, or sparrow, but not a Killdeer. I thought he was perfect for my first Migration Monday, since Killdeer are one of the earliest migrants.

Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus)

Description:

Killdeer are medium-sized shorebirds (about 10 1/2″ inches tall). Both males and females have similar features. These lanky birds have large round heads with short bills and long legs/tails/wings. In flight, you can see the bright orange feathers underneath their tails. Their eyes are also large and have a red orbital ring that is visible in close range. Killdeer have brown upperparts, white underparts, and a black double-banded breast. The double-banded breast helps distinguish them from the similar-looking Wilson’s Plovers and Semipalmated Plovers who only have one breast band. Adult Killdeer are also larger and slimmer than other plovers. Juveniles only have one breast band, so they are usually confused with the Semipalmated or Wilson’s. Killdeer juveniles are downy, have pinkish legs, and all black bills.

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An adult Killdeer (Image by Claude Nadeau/VIREO via audubon.org)
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A juvenile Killdeer: note his single breast band (Image by Peter Massas via Wikipedia)

Range:

Killdeer may be either medium-distant migrants or residents depending on region. The northern population of Killdeer may migrate from Canada and the Northern United States to Central America and Peru for the winter. The population in the Southern United States and the Pacific Coast tend to be residents.

Habitat:

Although they are considered shorebirds, you are more likely to see them away from water. Killdeer like open grasslands such as pastures, plowed fields, and lawns. You can find them at water’s edge as well. You may also spot them at parking lots, mudflats, coastal estuaries, airports, golf courses, or trying to nest on gravel rooftops.

Food:

Mostly insects such as caterpillars, grasshoppers, beetles, earthworms, snails,and  larvae. Will also eat seeds. They forage on the ground.

Breeding/Nesting:

Males will fly above the nesting territory calling out to females. Killdeer will do a “nest-scraping” ritual, where the male will get close to the ground and scrape out a hole with his feet and then the female will take over. Mating usual occurs shortly after. They will add stones, sticks and other items (even human trash) to line their nests. Females lay between 3-5 eggs (usually 4) and incubate them for 24-28 days. Chicks are precocial, meaning they leave the nest soon after hatching and are tended to by their parents but can feed themselves. They will usually have their first flight at around 25-days-old. In warmer climates, Killdeer may have 2 broods (families) per season.

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A Killdeer family (Image by Lyn Topinka via northwestbirding.com)

Sounds:

A loud and shrill kill-deer, kill-dee, dee-dee-dee.  They are considered sentinel birds, meaning they are acutely aware of predators. Since they live in open grasslands they can spot predators from a far distance and make a loud alarm call to warn other Killdeer and nearby animals.

Fun Facts:

  • And the Academy Award for Best Actor goes to….the Killdeer! Killdeer are masters of the “broken-wing” display. The adult Killdeer will lure a predator away from the nest by pretending its wing is broken and flailing around while giving a distress call. Once the predator is far enough away from the nest the Killdeer will instantly “heal” and fly away.
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Broken Wing Display (Image by Phil Gilston via birdnote.org)
  • When a Killdeer spots an intruder it will bob its head up and down.
  • Nicknames include “The Noisy Plover” or “The Chattering Plover”
  • Killdeer migrate earlier than other birds, usual returning to their northern regions in February or March

 

 

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Author: BirdNation

I am an avid birder, teacher, and nature lover. I primarily birdwatch throughout New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania.

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