Native Animal of the Month - The Killdeer

Written by Jennifer Callaghan
    Thursday, 14 March 2013
Native Animal of the Month - The Killdeer

The Killdeer is a widespread and familiar plover. This hardy, native shorebird can be found living and nesting in a wide variety of habitats from farm fields to grocery store parking lots. They are one of the first spring migrants to return to Wisconsin. The Killdeer prefers wide, open spaced areas where they can easily survey terrain; switching between quick jaunts and abrupt, short rest periods. They are the least water dependent of all shorebirds and prefer areas where they can easily find insect prey.

Killdeer nest 116-72The Killdeer is a long-legged, large-headed bird with a short bill and double breast-band. Its long, pointed wings and tail feathers give the bird an elegant look while its white breast, orange rump and slim, angular body make it distinctive during flight. The red orbital (eye) ring appears in adults of both sexes, but is more distinctive in males. The upper parts of the killdeer can vary from rufous to dull brown.

Males court females by performing a scrape display. The male will lay its chest to the ground and scrape a shallow depression before the female bows her head and takes his place. She will lay 3-5 eggs in a gravelly nest which she guards intently. Killdeer are known to feign a broken wing and emit a distress call to lure potential threats away from nests. To distract larger threats which could potentially stomp on eggs, the killdeer uses a different display. Animals such as cows and horses are scared away when the Killdeer fluffs itself up, flips its tail overhead and charges the animal. Killdeer that are startled when not protecting a nest or eggs will quickly take flight, circle overhead and emit repeatedly the shrill "kill-deer" noise after which the the bird was named.

Fun Facts:

  • Although Killdeer enjoy dry and rocky terrain, they show their true shorebird roots with their proficient swimming skills.4074-2-killdeer-chick
  • The Killdeer was nicknamed "chattering plover" and "noisy plover" by eighteenth century naturalists after they noted its gregarious nature.
  • The juvenile Killdeer only has one dark breast-band, but will quickly gain a second band as it matures.
  • The juvenile Killdeer can often be confused with the Semipalmated and Wilson's plovers, but can be differentiated by looking for its pinkish legs and solid black bill. Habitat identification can be helpful too since a Semipalmated and Wilson's will never be found in a dry, grassy area.
  • The oldest known Killdeer lived to be nearly 11 years old.
* This article was written using facts from the National Geographic, Field Guide to the Birds of North America, Richard Crossley's, The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website, allaboutbirds.org, and the iPhone cellphone application, iBird Plus.
Jennifer Callaghan

Jennifer Callaghan

Jennifer came to Wisconsin later in life, but has fully embraced the great state of Wisconsin as home. Her first career was as a professional ballet dancer, but a lifelong passion for nature and animals led her to a second career in environmental biology. She loves to learn new things and share her love of nature with others. In her free time she likes to travel and stay active with her awesome husband and sweet little dogs.


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