By Tom Dennis
Killdeer, Charadrius vociferus
Although the Killdeer is classified as a “shorebird” it is more likely to be found living and nesting far from water. My first encounters with these birds were on and around my grandparent’s farms in Avoca, Michigan. I have always enjoyed watching this beautiful species that is sometimes referred to as the Upland Plover. Read on to learn more about the Killdeer and I trust you will agree that although they are plentiful, they really are special creatures.
Killdeer are relatively large plovers despite weighing in at just over three ounces. They are slender and have long pink-brown legs with a body length of about ten inches and a twenty-inch wingspan. Adult males and females are similar in appearance with brown upperparts, white underparts, a rust-brown rump and dark wings with a white wing-stripe. They are easily distinguishable from similar plovers in that they are the only species with two black breast bands. Their dark eyes contrast sharply with a red to orange orbital ring. Juveniles are best described as little fuzz balls on stick legs and they lack the rust-brown rump and have a single breast band.
Killdeer are masters of deceit and camouflage. Their nest is a shallow depression and if lined at all, it is with pebbles, twigs, and grass. Nests are built in open fields or other flat areas with short vegetation and will even choose gravel parking areas and rooftops that are void of plant life. The speckled eggs blend in with gravel and open ground and nests can be difficult to locate even when you know one is present. Males are known to scrape dummy nests that help to foil the efforts of predators. The adults are well-known for their broken-wing display that is used to lead perceived predators away from the nest. This feigning behavior is exhibited by both sexes. Loss of eggs and young to predators is still high at just over 50% so the numbers game is important. Two broods of three or four young are raised each season and up to five replacement broods may be laid. The male assumes most of the incubation and defense activity to allow the female more feeding time to replace energy spent on egg production. The young are precocial, typically spending only one day after hatching in the nest. They are then led by the parents to deeper cover to feed heavily on insects until they fledge after about four weeks.
Named for their call, the “kill-dee” or “deee” sound is quite familiar to many. When disturbed they emit the call notes in rapid sequence and the alarm call is a long, fast trill. They are found throughout North and Central America and they are relatively short-distance migrators. Michigan is in the southernmost tier of the summer only range with the year-round range-line located in southern Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. The species ecology rating is considered as “Least Concern” due to the large and stable range and population of about 1 million individual birds.
This is another species that is very beneficial to mankind in controlling insect populations. Like most birds, they are highly susceptible to death from our use of pesticides and thrive when organic farming and lawn-care are practiced. I urge you to get on board and practice good stewardship of the creation by ceasing use of pesticides and by allowing natural controls to make the world a safer place for birds and people.
If you wish to learn more about birds you are welcome to attend Blue Water Audubon meetings held at The Point, 5085 Lakeshore Rd, in Fort Gratiot on the first Monday of the month, October through May at 6:45 PM. Please visit our Facebook page, “Blue Water Audubon Society”, and be sure to friend us.
Tom Dennis is a free-lance writer, passionate birder, zoologist, creation scientist, and naturalist.
Photo credit, Tom Dennis
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