Killdeer

Broken wing charade

When predators come near a killdeer nest, the bird will often fake a broken wing, dragging itself away from the nest with one wing twisted against its back. This makes the bird appear vulnerable and lures predators away from the killdeer’s young.


Killdeer at the Seattle Aquarium
Shorebird often found far from shore
Killdeers are shorebirds—with common shorebird characteristics such as long legs and bills—but unlike many such birds they have short necks and often live far from shore. Unlike other shorebirds, killdeer are common in dry areas: lawns, driveways, athletic fields, parking lots, airports and golf courses. The birds require sandy/gravel ground for nesting and nearby wet or muddy areas to forage.
Two black bands and a noisy name
Killdeers have brown upperparts, white underparts, orange rumps, red rings around their eyes and two black bands on their breasts. In flight, you can see the bird’s white wing stripes. Males and females have the same markings, though males are generally larger. Adults and juveniles look the same, though chicks have only a single black band on their breasts. Killdeer get their common name from the shrill, wailing kill-deer call they give. Eighteenth-century naturalists called them chattering plovers. Their scientific species name, vociferous, is Latin for noisy. Killdeer chicks start making noise even before they have hatched.
The scraping ceremony
Mating killdeer pairs pick out nesting sites through a ritual known as a scraping ceremony. A male lowers his breast to the ground and scrapes a shallow depression with his feet. The female approaches and takes his place while the male raises and spreads his tail and calls rapidly. Killdeer nests are shallow depressions approximately three inches across. A pair may make several scrapes in an area before choosing one to lay in. To guard against large, hoofed animals present in the fields where killdeer sometimes nest, the bird fluffs itself up and runs at the animal in hopes of making it change its travel path.
The plow-chasing plover
Killdeer feed primarily on invertebrates such as earthworms, snails, crayfish, grasshoppers, beetles and aquatic insect larvae. The birds often follow plows to retrieve newly-exposed worms and larvae.

Map

Killdeer range map
Killdeer range

Quick Facts

Diet: Carnivore
Average lifespan in the wild:
3–5 years
Size: 8–11” tall; wing span approx. 18”
Protection status: Species of least concern