It’s a memorable and somewhat vicious-sounding name for such a charming little bird. But the Killdeer’s name has nothing at all to do with killing. Instead, it is an onomatopoeia for the sound that Killdeer make. This “kill-deer” cry is so loud and shrill that early naturalists called the Killdeer the “Chattering Plover” and the “Noisy Plover.”
Like all plovers, the Killdeer is a petite shorebird with a round body and somewhat long legs. Unlike most plovers, though, Killdeer can be found throughout the continental United States. For many beginner birders, they are the most recognizable plover thanks to their distinctive black breast bands and orange eye rings.
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Fun Facts About the Killdeer
Killdeer are undeniably cute and their small bodies are packed to the brim with character. They may look tiny and helpless, but Killdeer are clever little drama queens. Let’s look at what makes them so special!
- Land-locked shorebird: If you found yourself scratching your head earlier when I mentioned the Killdeer’s range, you’re onto something. Most plovers, being shorebirds, stick to places with shores. They are usually found along coastlines or large lakes. The Killdeer doesn’t follow that rule of thumb. Instead of sticking by the ocean, Killdeer will go wherever there’s a nice field of grass. They are fond of short well-maintained grassy fields and are often found in athletic fields, golf courses, and parks. While these locations are not the typical hangout for most shorebirds, they provide ample access to worms and insect larva, a favorite food for Killdeer.
- The great pretender: The Killdeer is perhaps most famous for its thespian streak. When a perceived threat approaches their nests, which are usually on the ground, Killdeer perform a distraction display known as the “broken wing display.” It looks like how it sounds. The broken wing display is a performance wherein the Killdeer will feign an injury to distract predators and lure them away from its hidden nest. Killdeer will entice the invader to follow them, only to fly away on their uninjured wings when the threat is far enough away that the nest is deemed safe. This is just one of the strategies that Killdeers have developed to protect their vulnerable young.
- Camouflaged kids: Though perhaps not as effective as the famous camouflaged chicks of the Killdeer’s cousin, the Golden Plover, Killdeer chicks do employ camouflage to avoid being noticed by predators. Before they hatch, their eggs are a speckled brown that easily blends in with the dirt and pebbles of the nest. After hatching, the chicks are brown and streaky, making them difficult to spot.
- Scrape sweet scrape: Both of these strategies aim to conceal the nest from predators. This is because Killdeer nest by digging a shallow scrape in the ground. This nest is chosen via a mating ritual called the “scrape ceremony,” wherein both male and female participate in choosing a spot. They like nesting in gravel lots and will sometimes nest on rooves, though this presents hazards for their young. Although the nest begins as little more than a divot in the ground, Killdeer will add pebbles, sticks, shells, and human debris to the nest. Oddly, they show a preference for light colored materials and were shown to choose light sticks over darker colored ones in one experiment. As a final touch to discourage predators even further, Killdeer will often build multiple scrape nests to act as decoys and obscure their true nest.
The Future of The Killdeer
The Killdeer is currently classified as “least concern” with regards to conservation. Their wide range and large numbers allows for this species to maintain relative stability throughout the United States. Despite this, populations are decreasing slightly. An affinity for lawns has made them adaptable to the presence of humans, however man-made threats like pesticides still damage their total numbers.
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