The killdeer is one of the most widespread, familiar plovers in North America, and its often the first plover many beginning birders learn to recognize. Despite its familiarity, however, there may be quite a bit you don’t know about this popular bird!
Killdeer Fun Facts
The killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) is relatively easy to find and recognize, but not many birders recognize all that is truly exceptional about these birds.
- The killdeer’s range covers all of North America and then some. These birds can be found from Alaska and Canada (in summer) to the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean (year-round) to Central America and northern South America (in winter). Vagrant killdeers are recorded in Ireland and Britain almost every year.
- The killdeer is a type of shorebird, but is rarely seen at beaches. They are, however, found in a wide variety of other habitats, including open, gravely pastures and different urban and suburban areas, such as golf courses, parking lots and sports fields.
- These are very vocal birds with a distinctive “kill-deer” call they make on the ground as well as in flight. Because of their noisiness, they are also known as the chattering plover and the noisy plover, as well as the kill-dee and the killdeer plover. Other names for the killdeer include pasture bird and field plover.
- Killdeer are good swimmers, and even baby killdeers can swim across small streams long before they can begin to fly.
- When their nest, eggs or chicks are threatened, adult killdeers perform a dramatic “broken wing” display to distract potential predators and lure them away with the prospect of an easy meal. The adult will cry and flail about as if wounded and in distress, only to fly away when the predator is far enough away from the nest.
- Killdeers will also try to fool predators by faking nest locations. When a predator is spotted, the adult killdeer may settle down as if it is on its nest, seemingly unaware of the threat, until the predator is close and the bird moves away, leading the predator further and further from the real nest.
- Killdeers have a widely varied diet and eat insects, worms, snails, small fish, amphibians and crustaceans, as well as some berries. In agricultural areas, they occasionally eat spilled seed, but they aren’t regular seed-eaters and don’t typically visit feeders.
- These birds lay their eggs on the ground, usually with 3-4 eggs per nest. The baby birds can walk and run as soon as they hatch and their feathers dry, but they can’t fly for about 3-4 weeks. Until they can fly, young killdeers will freeze and hide if threatened, and their parents will defend them or distract predators.
- Though killdeers are typically solitary or found in pairs, small flocks can form late in summer as youngsters mature and the birds prepare to migrate in northern areas. A flock of killdeers is called a season or congregation.
- There are three different subspecies of killdeer. Geography and the amount of rufous coloration on their backs and wings are the key differences between them, but the differences are not considered significant enough for different species.
Add the Killdeer to Your Life List
Because these birds are relatively comfortable in urban and suburban areas, they can be easy to find. Check gravely places, such as abandoned or undeveloped lots, construction sites and gravel parking lots, as well as the groomed, trimmed grass of sports fields and golf courses. These birds may be seen on gravel rooftops, or in areas with wide expanses of asphalt with gravel edges, such as large parking lots around schools or malls or alongside airport runways or railroad tracks. In somewhat less developed areas, check sandbars, gravel pond edges or mudflats along with open fields with short grass and gravel. Listening for their distinctive calls can alert you that killdeers are nearby, but look closely – their plumage is excellent camouflage and they can be difficult to see. Watching for movement can help you locate a nearby killdeer.
Learn More About the Killdeer
Study up on the killdeer with these great resources…
- Cornell Lab of Ornithology: Species overview, breeding details, plumage, etc.
- BirdLife International: Full worldwide species range map
- Smithsonian National Zoological Park: Extensive photo gallery
- YouTube: Multiple videos of the famed “broken wing” distraction display
- Xeno-Canto: Recordings of killdeer songs and calls
- Bird of the Week: Previous featured killdeer (old weekly bird format)