One of the most familiar shorebirds of North America, the killdeer is a large, noisy plover that lives primarily in open country though not always near shorelines. Easy to identify by its distinctive markings and vocalizations, killdeers are familiar for all types of birders.
- Bill: Black, straight and slender
- Size: 10-11 inches long with 20-inch wingspan, long legs, tail and wings
- Colors: Brown, white, black, orange
- Markings: Killdeers have two thick black bands across a white chest, a brown or gray-brown back and wings, white throat, chin and chest, a bright brown-orange rump and a dark tail. A dark eye is surrounded by a bright red eye ring and a bold white eyebrow.
Habitat and Migration:
Killdeers are common, abundant birds throughout the year in the southern United States and in the western states of California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, as well as throughout Mexico. Summer populations can be found in northern states and Canada south of tundra regions. While these are familiar shorebirds, killdeers can actually be found in a wide range of habitats including open rural areas, wetlands, rivers and lakes as well as near railroad tracks and golf courses. Northern populations migrate and winter in Central America.
The killdeer is a very vocal bird with a high-pitched “kill-deer” or "kill-deer-deer" distinctive call. Other vocalizations include short, sharp pips or buzzes.
These seemingly nervous birds are fast, agile runners that will abruptly stop to look about before pecking at the ground for disturbed insects. Killdeers are well known for their diversionary displays when protecting a nest and they will often imitate a broken wing, limp or other injuries to lure predators away from the nest before flying away.
Killdeer pairs are monogamous and the male bird will build a shallow, unlined gravel nest in an area with good visibility. Pairs will produce two broods of 3-5 eggs per year and both parents participate in the 25-30 day incubation period. Young birds can leave the nest very quickly but will stay near their parents to be shown food for 3-4 weeks.
The killdeer is not a common backyard bird but may be present in rural areas or in yards with extensive cultivated grass or gravel areas. To encourage killdeers to stay nearby, birders should minimize pesticide use that will impact the birds’ insect food supplies.
- Semipalmated Plover (Charadrius semipalmatus)
- Wilson’s Plover (Charadrius wilsonia)