Killdeer are adorable little birds which belong to the plover family. Unlike most shorebirds, Killdeer are quite commonly found inland in their native territories which stretch across the Americas. Not one to cling to the coastlines, Killdeer are often found on lawns and in fields all throughout their home regions. Even birders in landlocked states may be familiar with these charismatic little birds. (1)
Killdeer are most well known for the dramatic ways in which they protect their vulnerable ground nests. Widely referred to as the “broken wing display,” a Killdeer who notices a predator in the vicinity of its nest may feign injury in order to lure the threat away from its young. This display involves drooping one or both wings, crying pitifully, and even limping. Humans who witness this are often fooled into thinking that the Killdeer adult has an injured wing. In reality, it is hoping that the perceived predator will want an easy meal and lose interest in sniffing out the Killdeer nest. Once the predator is far enough from the helpless Killdeer chicks, the parent can surprise its pursuer by taking to the sky. (2)
Killdeer are striking to look at and often feel out of place in the suburban environments in which they are common. These charming little plovers have interesting roles in the folklore and traditions of indigenous cultures in the Americas. Worldwide, the plover family has a rich mythological history. Read on to learn more about the Killdeer!
Killdeer Symbolism and Meaning
The Killdeer is most strongly associated with parenthood, protection, cleverness, and trickery. Most people associate Killdeer most with their tendency to perform the “broken wing display.” On top of this display, though, Killdeer parents may rush predators which are much larger and more formidable than they. In addition, Killdeer parents remain with their young at all times, alternating their vigils in shifts, for the first few weeks of their chicks’ lives. Killdeer are willing and eager to risk life and limb to protect their offspring. (3)
Besides self-sacrifice, Killdeer parents have a few more strategies for ensuring that their young reach adulthood. Because Killdeer nest directly on the ground and do very little to build a nest at all, they often build multiple decoy nests to throw off potential predators. They may be associated with trickery for this reason.
Additionally, Killdeer chicks are born with incredible camouflage. Their adult colors are much more simple, but whilst they are very young Killdeer are streaked with colors which blend in easily with grass or pebbles. (4)
Because Killdeer have so many tricks designed to give their offspring the best survival chance possible, they symbolize the power and sanctity of the family and the pure sheltered innocence of childhood.
Other common associations for the Killdeer include medicine and healing, communication, industriousness, and melodrama. Note that while “kill deer” may sound like a name which connects them with hunting or violence, this name is actually an onomatopoeia derived from the sound of the Killdeer’s cry. (5)
Killdeer Native American Symbolism
In Native American symbolism, the Killdeer represents death, passage between worlds, and protection. According to a myth from Central California, the Killdeer guards the river through which souls pass after death. If any living human touches the river’s water, they are transformed into a fish. A Killdeer watches the river and warns humans who come close by crying a warning cry.
Although it is associated with death, the Killdeer is not a negative omen and is not thought to bring death. Instead, the Killdeer is there to ease the transition into the afterlife and to prevent humans from going before their proper time. So, the Killdeer is a protective spirit.
Killdeer Christianity Symbolism
Due to a particular Icelandic Christian myth, the Killdeer is associated with Jesus Christ, his deeds, and with miracles. According to this legends, Jesus created plovers from broken clay figurines when he was only a small child. So, the Killdeer may represent Jesus’s grace and power as the son of God.
Killdeer Celtic Symbolism
In one Celtic tale, a great war is fought between the heroes of Wales, and the forces of the Otherworld, or “Annwn.” In this story, the god of agriculture, Amaetheon, steals a bird which has been alternately described as a Lapwing or plover, from Arawn, the king of Annwn, along with a deer and a hound. The theft of this bird which is described in terms that resemble a Killdeer, sets in motion a great supernatural war. In the end, Amaetheon’s brother, the wizard Gwydion, turns the forest’s trees into warriors to fight for the heroes of Wales. So, the Killdeer in Celtic traditions would be considered an Otherworldly animal. Because it was so treasured by the god of agriculture, this bird can be associated with prosperity and springtime. (8)
Killdeer in Dreams
Dreaming of a Killdeer may signify distraction. Because Killdeer use dramatic tactics to draw attention away from their vulnerable young, a Killdeer dream may indicate that you are avoiding a sore topic or distracting yourself from an area that makes you feel vulnerable.
A Killdeer dream may also indicate a desire to return to a more innocent period in one’s life. Killdeer parents do everything they can to shelter their chicks form harm. Dreaming of a Killdeer may indicate a desire to be protected.
Killdeer Encounters and Omens
Encountering a Killdeer may indicate a desire to heal or fix people. If you fall for a Killdeer’s “broken wing” act, then this may indicate gullibility. It may also mean that your desire to nurture others is misguided. Make sure that you give your loved ones a chance to stand on their own before trying to nurse them, and be on the lookout for those who would manipulate you into helping when they do not need you.
Stumbling upon a Killdeer nest may signify a desire for a stable home in which to raise a family. Note, however, that it is important to leave any nest you might find alone. In most countries, nesting birds are protected by law and disturbing bird’s nests will harm the young inside regardless of legal repercussions.
Killdeer in Mythology & Folklore
In the Americas, Killdeer often appear in mythology as protective forces. Though Killdeer are not found outside of the Americas, their fellow plovers are found across the globe. So, in this section, myths surrounding plovers in general have been included alongside specific Killdeer myths.
The Killdeer is associated in Hawaii with a particular healing god. According to legend, a man named Kolea-Moku was once gravely ill. At that time, medicine was not available, so the sick could only appeal to the gods for help. So, Kolea-Moku cried out to the gods and asked them to heal him. The gods answered his plea by teaching Kolea-Moku the healing properties of medicinal herbs. Kolea-Moku shared this knowledge with the other humans, and at the time of his death took on the role of the god of medicine and healing. Kolea-Moku’s name means “plover” and it is thought that shorebirds, such as the Killdeer, are messengers who act in his stead. As such, Hawaiian culture may perceive the Killdeer as an animal with a particular talent for healing. (9)
According to an Icelandic Christian myth, the plover, which is the family to which Killdeer belong, was not created when God created the animals of the earth in Genesis. Instead, the plover was a much later creation by Jesus himself. In this story, a young Jesus was playing with a group of other children. The group were creating little figures of birds out of clay. Then, an old man came and admonished the children for playing games during the Sabbath. The man broke all of the children’s clay birds. Little Jesus then touched each of the birds and breathed miraculous life into them. The clay figures transformed into living breathing plovers before everyone’s eyes. Then, the newly created plovers took to the sky. This story is not in the bible, however it is a beloved religious folktale that is quite popular in Iceland. (10)
Native American Mythology:
According to a myth told amongst some of the Native American peoples of Central California, the Killdeer guards the barrier between the living and the dead. According to this story, a living man once tried to follow his wife into death. He wanted to see where his love’s soul would go, and he desperately hoped that they could remain together. So, in the days following his wife’s death, the man dug a grave beside hers and crawled inside. There, he waited for his wife to pass on to the next place. After two days, his wife sat up in the dead of night and began to walk into the woods. With her husband following behind, she came to the river where a Killdeer stood in the center. Then, his wife’s soul turned back and warned the man that this river was no place for the living. If he touched its water, he would transform into a fish. That is why the Killdeer was there to guard the crossing. The man successfully crossed the river between worlds using a magical talisman, however he failed to retrieve his wife’s soul because he could not pass the trials that the dead set before him.
Although there are no Killdeer in Japan, there are many many similar small wading birds. In Japanese, “chidori,” which means “plover,” also means “1,000 birds.” This indicates the sheer volume of wading birds that migrate through Japan and dwell on its coasts. Chidori symbolize endurance, longevity, and courage. Chidori are commonly used as a decorative motif on clothing. Because shore birds migrate through storms and brave the whims of the sea, the Killdeer, as a “chidori,” is praised for its tenacity. (12)
According to Greek mythology, Hermes one transformed a sinful man into a plover as punishment for his blasphemies. Note that Killdeer are not present outside of the Americas. Because Killdeer are members of the plover family, this story is still relevant to the Killdeer. According to this myth, the prince of Kos, a young man named Agron, committed the crime of incurring Hermes’s wrath. Agron referred to the messenger god as a thief. In response, he was transformed into a plover. (13)
Killdeer Spirit Animal
If the Killdeer is your spirit animal, this indicates that you are protective, family-oriented, outgoing, and clever. People with the Killdeer spirit animal have a tendency to be a bit dramatic but they almost always do so with the best interests of their loved ones at heart.
People with the Killdeer spirit animal have a tendency to procrastinate and distract themselves from serious issues or from emotional wounds which they don’t want to face. When a threat or problem involves a loved one, however, the Killdeer spirit animal is suddenly unafraid to tackle it head on.
Killdeer Totem Animal
The Killdeer totem animal is associated with trickery and cunning. People with the Killdeer totem are rarely the most physically formidable, so they often rely on their wits to get by.
The Killdeer totem is the embodiment of “work smarter not harder.” Although they are certainly not lazy and often work tirelessly toward their goals, people with this totem are always searching for innovative solutions which might save them time and effort.
Killdeer Power Animal
The Killdeer power animal is associated with influence. Skilled at reading others and playing into their emotional states, people with the Killdeer power animal in their corner may be called “manipulative.” In a way, people with this power are manipulative, as they analyze and attempt to influence the emotions of others.
Fortunately, though, people with this power animal are typically drawn to healing and nurturing others. So, they usually use their talent for “manipulation” as an extension of their natural empathy, choosing the correct words to soothe their loved ones and bolster their confidence.
Killdeer Tattoo Meaning
A Killdeer tattoo may be chosen to represent parenthood or strong family ties, childhood, cleverness, protection, or sacrifice.
Someone in the acting profession might also feel drawn to the Killdeer on account of its dramatic antics.
A Killdeer tattoo may also represent the Hawaiian god of herbal medicine, or the Native American guardian of the river between life and death.
The Killdeer is similar, in many ways, to other plovers and shorebirds. However, there is something distinct about the Killdeer. This creature has a unique sense of personality which shines through even amongst its most similar relatives. Perhaps this added charm lies in the devoted parenting of the Killdeer, or perhaps in its adorable looks. Whatever the case, it is lucky indeed for so many inland communities that the Killdeer is so willing to make its home far from the sea.
2 thoughts on “Killdeer Symbolism & Meaning (+Totem, Spirit & Omens)”
Hi my name is ivy, I do hv a killdeer bird incubating eggs in my yard on the ground, fr more than 3 weeks now. It’s raining everyday here. So today I went closer to the bird, that whn I see 2 eggs underneath it. I left it alone ever since, but wondering how does it survive sitting there, in this heavy rain. The same thing happens 2 year ago, I hv a nesting bird in my varander till today. I tried many time to take it off, but thy keep on coming bck stronger. So I left it alone since then till today. I’m happy now that I hv a knowledge, of the meaning of this kind of things
Hi Ivy! Thanks for reading my article! Birds are often way more resilient than we think. Heavy rain is likely not a huge problem for your little Killdeer friend. In fact, Killdeer are shore birds which are often found subsisting alongside the ocean. They shouldn’t be too put off by wet weather. I’m glad my work was helpful to you. Thank you for sharing your story!
— Hailey Brophy
Writer @ WorldBirds