Killdeer

Common Name: Killdeer.

Scientific Name: Charadrius Vociferus.

What to look for?  Coloring has black, white and brown. The Killdeer has a white collar and white forecrown on its head. The white chest is barred with two black breast bands that look like necklaces. Their brown face is marked with black and white patches. Killdeer have the characteristic large, round head, large eye, and short bill of all plovers. They are especially slender and lanky, with a long, pointed tail and long wings. Killdeer have a bright orange-buff rump that is conspicuous only in flight.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? A shorebird - without heading out to the beach. You may find Killdeer running over lawns, short-mown grassy fields, and prairie areas. You may also find them on the edges of our ponds. If you take long walks, Killdeer are also at the prairie grassland area near the police station.

How big are they? Killdeer averages approximately ten inches in length. And their wingspan is just over 18 inches. They weigh in at around 3 ½ ounces.

What are their flight patterns? The Killdeer flies rather stiffly on its long, pointed wings. Their flight is rapid, with stiff, intermittent wingbeats.

How else do they behave? The old “broken-wing” con! Killdeer lure predators – including us - away from a nest by faking injury. As you approach, the killdeer will suddenly develop a “broken wing”. It struggles in front of you - barely walking and seemingly not able to fly. One or both wings are bent and drag on the ground. As you try to rescue the Killdeer and reach out for it, the Killdeer manages to stay one step ahead of you. The “con” continues to play out until the Killdeer has led you away from its babies. Then, its “broken wing” miraculously heals and the Killdeer flies away. Killdeers also have an unusual gait: they run; then stop; and finally, they bob their heads (think “bob & weave” as in boxing).

What’s for dinner? Killdeer feed primarily on invertebrates, such as earthworms, snails, crayfish, grasshoppers, beetles, and aquatic insect larvae. Their diet will also include seeds.

Where do they take up residence? Killdeer reside throughout the United States and most of Canada. They prefer open habitats such as fields, meadows, gravel bars, and mudflats.

When and where do they breed and nest? Killdeer breed from March to May. The Killdeer’s nest is nothing more than a shallow scrape or depression in soil or gravel. It may be unlined or lined with pebbles, grass, twigs, or other bits of debris. Killdeer young are “precocial”, which means "ripened beforehand”. They are said to have hatched “with their running shoes on”. They hatch with their eyes open. As soon as their downy feathers dry, they start scurrying about, following their parents and searching the ground for something to eat. Now they still cannot fly, but they are a lot closer to independence than most baby birds.

Where do they migrate? Killdeer in most areas do not migrate. However, they do fly south when temperatures drop below 50 degrees (and who can blame them!).

What is their conservation status? There is low concern. According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, the Killdeer has seen slight decreases in populations. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 2 million.

Do they make any interesting sounds? The Killdeer’s namesake call is the high, plaintive “kill-deer” or “kill-dee”. Here is a link to the sounds of the Killdeer.

Interesting Facts About the Killdeer:

  • Eighteenth-century naturalists noticed how noisy Killdeer are and gave them names such as the Chattering Plover and the Noisy Plover.

  • The Killdeer’s broken-wing act leads predators away from a nest, but doesn’t keep cows or horses from stepping on eggs. To guard against large hoofed animals, the Killdeer uses a quite different display, fluffing itself up, displaying its tail over its head, and running at the beast to attempt to make it change its path.

  • While the Killdeer tends to reside in dry habitats, they are actually proficient swimmers.

  • The male and female of a mated pair pick out a nesting site through a ritual known as a scrape ceremony. The male lowers his breast to the ground and scrapes a shallow depression with his feet. The female then approaches, head lowered, and takes her place. The male then stands with body tilted slightly forward, tail raised and spread, calling rapidly. Mating often follows.

  • Killdeer lay their eggs into an empty nest but add other materials later on. In one nest, people found more than 1,500 pebbles had accumulated this way.

  • The oldest recorded Killdeer was approximately 12 years old when it was recaptured and released.

For more information on the Killdeer and sources of information used in this blog (these are the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit All About Birds, Audubon Society and National Geographic.  And the Cornell Lab of Ornithology provides a wonderful source of information for anyone interested in learning more about birds.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, plants and insects. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.

 

Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!