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killdeer

Charadrius vociferus

What do they look like?

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)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Average mass
    88 g
    3.10 oz
    AnAge
  • Range length
    23 to 27 cm
    9.06 to 10.63 in
  • Range wingspan
    17.5 (low) cm
    6.89 (low) in

Where do they live?

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)

What kind of habitat do they need?

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)

How do they reproduce?

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)

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    In the northern part of their range, killdeer breed once per year, raising one to two broods per season. In the southern part of their breeding range, killdeer can breed year-round.
  • Breeding season
    Killdeer usually begin breeding in early spring, depending on their location. Nesting may begin as early as March in the southern United States, to as late as June in central Canada. In the Caribbean and Mexico, killdeer can nest year-round.
  • Range eggs per season
    2 to 6
  • Average eggs per season
    4
    AnAge
  • Range time to hatching
    24 to 28 days
  • Range fledging age
    3 to 24 days
  • Range time to independence
    20 to 31 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 years

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)

  • Parental Investment
  • precocial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • protecting
      • male
      • female

How long do they live?

The oldest known wild killdeer lived at least 10 years and 11 months. (Jackson and Jackson, 2000)

How do they behave?

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)

Home Range

Average home ranges during the breeding season ranged from 0.23 to 0.68 ha in two studies. (Jackson and Jackson, 2000)

How do they communicate with each other?

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)

What do they eat?

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)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • aquatic crustaceans
  • Plant Foods
  • fruit

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

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)

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

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)

Do they cause problems?

There are no known adverse effects of killdeer on humans.

How do they interact with us?

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)

  • Ways that people benefit from these animals:
  • controls pest population

Are they endangered?

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.

Contributors

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.

Glossary

Nearctic

living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

Neotropical

living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

agricultural

living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

diurnal
  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
endothermic

animals that generate their own body heat through metabolic processes.

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

monogamous

Having one mate at a time.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

nocturnal

active during the night

omnivore

an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals

oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

polymorphic

"many forms." A species is polymorphic if its individuals can be divided into two or more easily recognized groups, based on structure, color, or other similar characteristics. The term only applies when the distinct groups can be found in the same area; graded or clinal variation throughout the range of a species (e.g. a north-to-south decrease in size) is not polymorphism. Polymorphic characteristics may be inherited because the differences have a genetic basis, or they may be the result of environmental influences. We do not consider sexual differences (i.e. sexual dimorphism), seasonal changes (e.g. change in fur color), or age-related changes to be polymorphic. Polymorphism in a local population can be an adaptation to prevent density-dependent predation, where predators preferentially prey on the most common morph.

riparian

Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

solitary

lives alone

suburban

living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

taiga

this biome is characterized by large expanses of coniferous forest, there is an extended cold season and heavy snowfall.

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

territorial

defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

tropical

the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

tropical savanna and grassland
savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland
urban

living in cities and large towns, landscapes dominated by human structures and activity.

visual

uses sight to communicate

year-round breeding

breeding takes place throughout the year

young precocial

young are relatively well-developed when born

References

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.

 
University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

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Chung, H. 2001. "Charadrius vociferus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 23, 2014 at http://www.biokids.umich.edu/accounts/Charadrius_vociferus/

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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