The Nature Devotional

Killdeer! No, don’t kill deer, its a bird!

This weeks Get To Know Your Neighbor goes to the friendly groundnester, the Killdeer.

You may find a sweet little Killdeer like I did, plodding along a gravel road adjacent to some open fields near water. The field will likely be well-groomed, cut short, no taller than an inch. Mayhaps at a golf-course or open football/soccer field. Unlike so many of his shorebird cousins who I favor, a special place in my heart for all shorebirds, the Killdeer doesn’t mind hanging out on land for a great deal of his life.

I first saw a live Killdeer when beekeeping at Bernheim forest. We were on our way out from checking on some hives and I saw him plodding along quite quickly. He stopped to lock eyes with mine and my headlights and I stoped with an excited gasp to witness him. I immeadiatley decided to stop traffic, three other bee keepers following behind my Jeep. I leapt out, initially thinkning it to be an odd Plover who found his way into Kentucky. A staff member chimed sweetly,

“Oh, ha, I know the Killdeer are so cute. There were some babies the other day!”

Babies?! Killdeer?! Of course that made much more sense. Killdeer look very similar to their sweet cousins the Piping Plover and are actually Plovers themselves. A numerous species of “plump-breasted” shorebirds.

Piping Plovers
@Gates Dupont, Macaulay Library, Piping plover runs along a Great Lakes beach. Photo by Vince Cavalieri/USFWS, https://www.northernpublicradio.org/post/perspective-protect-piping-plovers

They munch on mostly invertabrets for lunch (worms, snails, crayfish, grasshoppers, aquatic insect larvae etc). They are very clever birds, following farmers as they plow land, awaiting freshly dug up earthworms or insect larvae. They may also hunt frogs or minnows.

When ready to mate and have young little Killdeer, they create simple nesting “scrapes” usually in some slight rises in their natural habitat.

A scrape is quite literally just that, a scrape in the ground where they nest their eggs. They are deceptive nesters, creating several nesting sites before choosing one to lay in and leaving the rest to confuse predators. They usually sit 3-3.5 inches across and, after laying 4-6 eggs, the Killdeer may add some trinkets; rocks, shells, twigs and sticks, even trash sadly. All this adorns the nest and keeps it safe, protected and decorative for the young chicks to emerge. They have anywhere from 1-3 broods which incubate for about a month (22-28 days). Like many shorebirds, their eggs are bluff-colored with blackish, moddled spots. They sit about 1.5 inches long in size. They have a unique tear drop shape that I love.

Something so wonderful about the Killdeer is that they are the shorebird that comes to your mid-west backyard.

Their long-skinny legs, plump and elongated body, scream shorebird right away.

The funny little chicks are mirror-miniatures of their adult counterparts. A very cute scene indeed.

When they hatch, the chicks are fully functional. They have full, plump feathers and can walk right out of the nest as soon as their feathers dry.

The Killdeer are famous for the run and halt…starting and stopping as they search for prey on the ground. Though it often lives in habitats surrounded by human life, it is a very shy little bird. Timid, it runs from you, starting and halting to look back. The one I encountered at Bernheim did this adorably. Running gently away and stopping suddenly to look back and determine my threat. Eventually, I went back to my car after snapping a dozen pictures and video and drove towards him. He flew away to near by refuge away from the car, revealing his bright orange-ish tail feathers.

Its also known to bob up and down like it has the hiccups when looking into the eyes of an intruder.

Photos and video footage I took of the Bernheim Killdeer
H.M Carter April 2020
Killdeer showing more colorful inner tail
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Killdeer

The killdeer is also very famous for its “broken-wing display”. They lure the predators away from their nesting eggs by faking injury. Once paired together, two mated killdeers may stay together for 1-3 years or so.

As far as conservation for these little guys go, their population had declined about 47% between 1966-2014 (https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Killdeer/lifehistory#). Because of where they choose to buy into real estate, Killdeer are most susceptible to pesticide poisoning and car accidents. While they are not on a state bird watchlist, Killdeer are at as much risk by humans as any other creature…a risk I consider quite high.

Fun Killdeer/Plover Facts:

Collective Noun: Ponderance of Plovers, A season of Killdeer

Male gives “kill-dee” call during courtship flights!

The Killdeer is the largest of ringed plovers.

For more information on Killdeer and their friends, check out these fine websites!

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Killdeer/lifehistory#

https://lenichoir.org/collective-nouns/

National Audobon Society and more!

If you would like to donate to help protect these birds visit:

https://act.audubon.org/onlineactions/zdcV6JL7Vk6h93vGsK2ZCQ2?ms=digital-fund-web-website_nas-topmenu

https://bernheim.org/ways-of-giving/

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