|Size:||Length: 9 to 11 inches (23 to 28 cm)|
|Weight:||Up to 3.5 ounces (100 g)|
|Diet:||Mainly insects such as mosquitoes, ticks, flies, beetles and grasshoppers but also berries, seeds and worms|
|Distribution:||North America, Central America and South America|
|Young:||2 to 5 chicks, once or twice a year|
|Animal Predators:||Larger birds, such as hawks|
|IUCN Status:||No special status|
· The killdeer is a member of the plover family.
· Their name comes from the call they make when alarmed, “kill-deeah.”
· The killdeer is the size of a robin and looks like a sandpiper.
Both females and males have the same markings—a brown head with a black band stretching from one eye to the other, a brown back and wings, and white and two black bands on the breast, with the top band completely encircling the upper body. The tail and legs are long, the underside is white, and the rump is a bright, reddish-orange, visible in flight. They are quick runners due to their long legs, and are also strong, fast fliers.
The summer range of these birds extends as far north as the southern portion of Canada’s territories, but as soon as the temperature drops below 10 degrees Celsius (50F), killdeer head for the southern United States, with some even flying as far south as Peru in South America. Although they are considered members of the shore birds family, they are often found far away from water, in fields, prairies, parks and pastures.
Killdeers are considered beneficial birds to humans because over 90 percent of their diet is made up of insects, including pests that are harmful to humans such as mosquitoes, ticks and flies, and insects that are harmful to crops such as beetles and grasshoppers. The remainder of the killdeer’s diet is made up of berries, seeds, worms and other invertebrates.
Male killdeers select a nesting site before taking on a mate. When he is prepared, the male stays in his territory and sings for hours at a time. Once he has found a mate and the union is consummated, the male scrapes out several shallow nests on the ground in a gravelled area. The female chooses one of them and lays two to five speckled eggs in the nest. The male and female take turns incubating the eggs, but if for any reason they need to leave—for example, if they need to distract a predator away from the nesting area—the eggs blend in with the surrounding stones and rocks; it takes sharp eyes to spot them. On hot days, one of the parents will stand beside the nest and block the sun. When a stranger approaches the nest, the killdeer moves away from the nest, dragging one wing on the ground, pretending to be injured. Once the intruder is far enough away from the nest, the killdeer will suddenly fly away. The eggs hatch in 24 to 28 days, and fluffy little chicks emerge, fully capable of running around, although awkwardly, within an hour or two after they leave the shell, unlike other birds who are helpless for the first few weeks after hatching. The chicks begin early on to find their own food, by scratching the dirt for insects, but they remain near their parents, freezing on the spot if the adults give out an alarm call and remaining that way until the parent lets out an all-clear signal. For the first 20 days, the chicks burrow under the wings of their parents when they want to sleep. Their wing and tail feathers start growing in at 30 days and by the time they reach 40 days, the young killdeer are ready to begin flying.
Killdeer are well-known, attractive little birds that can often be found by the shore. Killdeer are either solitary or in monogamous pairs, and although they do not flock together, they are friendly birds that live amicably with other killdeer.
Killdeer were very scarce by the end of the nineteenth century due to overhunting. They are now entirely protected under the Migratory Birds Convention Act of 1917, which means they cannot be hunted and their eggs cannot be removed.
C. and Greensmith, A. (1993). Birds of the World. London: Dorling Kindersley
Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America (1999)