Voice: loud repetitive shrill; sound like name “kill-deer”
Killdeer are one of the most familiar plover in North America. Their arrival in March is one of the signals of the beginning of spring. They are the largest of the ringed plovers, and the only plover in their range with a double breast band. Killdeer can be found near water however unlike many other shorebirds they prefer dry areas. Killdeer inhabit open areas including grassy fields, golf courses, neighborhoods and parking lots. They are often seen displaying a broken wing to distract predators including humans from getting too close to their nest and young.
Killdeer grab their food from the ground, shallow water, and low plants. They bob their heads back and forth as they walk searching for food. Their primary diet consists of insects, both aquatic and terrestrial including: grasshoppers, beetles, caterpillars, ants, mosquito larvae, caddis flies, dragonflies, and true bugs. They also eat spiders, ticks, snails, earthworms, centipedes, crayfish, and some seeds. Killdeer are opportunistic foragers. They have been observed hunting frogs and eating dead minnows.
Killdeer are usually solitary or in breeding pairs. In April breeding pairs decide upon a nesting site through a ritual courtship known as a scrape ceremony. Males lower their breast to the ground and scrape a shallow depression with their feet waiting for head lowered females to approach the depression to take their place. After males’ stand with their body tilted slightly forward, tail raised and spread, calling rapidly. Killdeer nests are often placed on slight rises on the ground in open habitats. Nests are typically empty consisting only of simple scrapes 3-3.5 inches across. Killdeer may make several scrape nests not far from each other before choosing one for egg laying.
After egg laying begins killdeer may add rocks, shell pieces, sticks, and sometimes trash to the nest. Males and females both incubate 3-6 buff-colored, heavily marked with blackish-brown eggs. Males tend to incubate at night while the females sit on the eggs in the day. Young hatch in 24 to 26 days. Chicks leave the nest shortly after hatching and are ready to feed themselves. Parents guard the young for another 25 days until they are able to fly at 40 days. Killdeer can raise two sets of young in a season.
Killdeers are widespread and common. Killdeer are well adapted to human disturbance. Populations have slightly declined by 1 percent per year from 1966 to 2010 according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Human modified habitats such as roads and golf courses may act as “population sinks” in which habitat seem suitable to breed but fail to produce viable young. The destruction of eggs and chicks are predominately caused by natural predators, pesticide poisoning and car collisions.