Killdeer are medium-sized shorebirds. They range from 23 to 27 cm long and have an average wingspan of 17.5 cm. They are most easily recognized by the two dark bands on their upper breast that look like necklaces. The upper band completely circles their neck. They have another dark band around their head, which goes across their face and along the forehead and above the bill. Killdeer are grayish-brown on their backs and head, and have a bright white chest, belly and neck. They have long, pointed bills that they use for probing the ground for insects and other invertebrates.
Male and female killdeer look about the same, though breeding females may have more brown on their face than males. Young killdeer look similar to adults, but their feathers have buff-colored edges. ("National Geographic Society. Field Guide to the Birds of North America", 1987; Hayman, et al., 1986; Jackson and Jackson, 2000)
Killdeer are native to the Nearctic and Neotropical regions. They can be found over much of North America and parts of South America. Starting from the Gulf of Alaska coastline, the range extends south throughout the United States and reaches the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. They can also be found into South America along the Andes Mountain Range to the southern border of Peru. (Hayman, et al., 1986)
Killdeer live in a variety of habitats, including savannas, coniferous forests, and deciduous forest regions. They can live in many different terrain types including shorelines, savannas, and high altitude regions, but they prefer open areas, such as sandbars, mudflats and pastures.
Temperature is the most important factor that determines where killdeer can live. Killdeer remain in the same area year-round, migrating only when temperature becomes extremely cold (about 10 degrees Celsius and below). They are able to adapt to changes in the climate and in their environment. Because of this, they have been able to successfully live in human environments such as parks and farms. (Hayman, et al., 1986; Root, 1988)
Killdeer are monogamous (one male mates with one female). Breeding pairs form on the breeding grounds in the spring. Male killdeer claim a nesting territory and then try to attract a female by performing flight displays and singing. Pairs that do not migrate may remain together year-round, and may even breed together for several years. ("New Hampshire Public Television", 2000; "Plovers and Sandpipers", 1985; "United States Geological Survey", 2000; Jackson and Jackson, 2000)
Killdeer usually begin breeding in early spring. This can be as early as March in the southern United States, to as late as June in central Canada. Killdeer that breed in the Caribbean and Mexico can nest year-round. In northern areas, killdeer only raise one brood per season, though they may lay up to three broods of eggs. However, in the southern U.S., killdeer often raise two broods of chicks in one summer.
The male and female work together to "build" their nest. The nest is just a shallow depression that they scrape out of the ground. Their nests are usually built in open areas with very little vegetation, often in farm fields, on road shoulders, in parking lots and on flat graveled rooftops. Females lay about 4 eggs, which both parents incubate for 24 to 28 days. The chicks are precocial at hatching; they are covered in down and are able to walk soon after hatching. Unlike most birds, killdeer parents do not feed their chicks. Instead, after the last egg has hatched, they lead the chicks to a feeding area. The chicks stay with the parents until they are able to fly. This happens when they are 20 to 31 days old. These chicks become mature and may breed the next spring. ("New Hampshire Public Television", 2000; "Plovers and Sandpipers", 1985; "United States Geological Survey", 2000)
The male and female both build the nest and incubate the eggs. Unlike most birds, killdeer parents do not feed their chicks in the nest. Instead, they lead the chicks to a feeding area soon after they have hatched. The chicks stay with the parents until they are able to fly. ("New Hampshire Public Television", 2000; "Plovers and Sandpipers", 1985; "United States Geological Survey", 2000; Jackson and Jackson, 2000)
The oldest known wild killdeer lived at least 10 years and 11 months. (Jackson and Jackson, 2000)
Killdeer are usually solitary or in breeding pairs, though they occasionally gather in a loose flock during non-breeding periods. They are easily heard throughout their habitat due to their extremely loud, piercing call that sounds like "kill-dee(r)."
Killdeer in most areas do not migrate. However, they do fly south when temperatures drop below 10 degreed Celsius. Killdeer are active during the day and at night. ("National Geographic Society. Field Guide to the Birds of North America", 1987; "New Hampshire Public Television", 2000; Hayman, et al., 1986; Jackson and Jackson, 2000)
Average home ranges during the breeding season ranged from 0.23 to 0.68 ha in two studies. (Jackson and Jackson, 2000)
Killdeer communicate using vocalizations and physical displays. Their common name comes from the loud, piercing "kill-dee(r)" call. Killdeer calls often serve as an alert system for other individuals, including animals of different species. (Jackson and Jackson, 2000)
Killdeers' primary diet consists of various invertebrates, specifically insects and crustaceans from both land and the water, but they can be considered omnivorous since berries are known to be included in their diet.
Killdeer obtain water by drinking it from standing pools or running water sources. ("Plovers and Sandpipers", 1985)
Killdeer adults, chicks and eggs are vulnerable to predation by many different predators, including birds of prey, gulls, crows and ravens snakes, foxes, coyotes, domestic cats, domestic dogs, raccoons, skunks and Virginia opossums.
When predators come near a killdeer nest, the adults try to draw the predator away by pretending to be injured. They pretend that their wing is broken, and they hobble away from the nest, hoping that the predator will follow. After they have drawn the predator far enough away from the nest, the killdeer flies away to safety. ("National Geographic Society. Field Guide to the Birds of North America", 1987; "New Hampshire Public Television", 2000; Hayman, et al., 1986)
Killdeer affect the populations of the insects and crustaceans they eat. They also provide a valuable source of food for their predators. Killdeer also host at least 13 different species of parasites. (Jackson and Jackson, 2000)
There are no known adverse effects of killdeer on humans.
Any economic/agricultural contribution from killdeer is most likely the result of their ability to control crop pests. Since insects comprise a large majority of the their diet, killdeer eat pests such as mosquitoes, ticks, and locusts. ("Plovers and Sandpipers", 1985)
Killdeer are neither endangered nor threatened. However, they are protected under the U.S. Migratory Bird Act.
Killdeer have adapted well to many of the habitats created by humans. Because of this, they are a very common species. There are about 1,000,000 killdeer in the world.
Tanya Dewey (author), Animal Diversity Web.
Kari Kirschbaum (editor), Animal Diversity Web.
Hugh Chung (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Terry Root (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
1987. National Geographic Society. Field Guide to the Birds of North America. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society.
2000. "New Hampshire Public Television" (On-line). Accessed September 2000 at http://www.nhptv.org/natureworks/killdeer.htm.
1985. Plovers and Sandpipers. Pp. 160-177 in The Encyclopedia of Birds. New York: Facts on File, Inc.
2000. "United States Geological Survey" (On-line). Accessed Sept. 2000 at http://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/id/mlist/h2730.html.
Hayman, P., J. Marchant, P. Tony. 1986. Shorebirds. An Identification Guide to the Waders of the World. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.
Jackson, B., J. Jackson. 2000. Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus). Pp. 1-28 in A Poole, F Gill, eds. The Birds of North America, Vol. 517. Philadelphia, PA: The Birds of North America, Inc.
Root, T. 1988. Atlas of Wintering North American Birds: An Analysis of Christmas Bird Count Data. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.