Killdeer, or Charadrius vociferus, are unique shorebirds found across North America, belonging to the plover family. They are commonly seen running across lawns, golf courses, athletic fields, and even parking lots. Although they can often be spotted near water, these birds are also adapted to surviving in pastures, fields, and other open country landscapes. Their distinctive call, which resembles the sound “kill-deer,” contributes to their lively presence and can be heard even after the sun sets.
If you’re interested in attracting these curious creatures to your backyard, understanding key aspects of their habitat, nesting and breeding behavior, and feeding habits are essential. By providing a suitable environment for the killdeer, you can encourage them to visit and even settle in your outdoor space. It’s also crucial to remain aware of safety and conservation measures, as well as understanding their unique physical features and behaviors, to ensure both you and the killdeer have a happy and fruitful relationship.
- Killdeer are adaptable shorebirds found in various environments, including lawns, fields, and parking lots.
- Attracting them to your backyard requires understanding their habitat needs, nesting behavior, and feeding preferences.
- Be mindful of safety and conservation measures when creating a suitable environment for these lively birds.
Killdeer Habitat and Range
The Killdeer is a fascinating bird species that can be found in various habitats across North America. These birds are known for their unique nesting habits and for their distinctive call, which sounds like “kill-dee.” In this section, we will focus on their habitat preferences and distribution, shedding light on where you can find them and how to create a suitable environment for them in your backyard.
North American Distribution
Killdeer are widespread in North America, from Canada, the United States, to Mexico. Open fields with short vegetation are preferred for their breeding grounds. However, they have been known to use unconventional spots such as rooftops. They are not strictly tied to water, despite being shorebirds, and can nest at a distance from shores.
During the non-breeding season, killdeer can be found in coastal wetlands, beach habitats, and coastal fields. Historically, they nested on sandbars and gravel near rivers and coastlines, but nowadays, suitable nesting sites include gravel parking lots and road shoulders.
Here’s a brief overview of their preferred habitats:
- Open fields with short vegetation
- Gravel parking lots and road shoulders
- Coastal wetlands, beaches, and coastal fields
To attract killdeer to your backyard, consider providing a protected gravel area for them to lay their eggs. Killdeer are quite adaptable and can make use of various environments as long as there is sufficient ground cover for them to build their nests. Keep in mind that these birds enjoy wide-open spaces, so try to minimize disturbances in the area and provide ample space for them to thrive.
By understanding the habitat and range of the killdeer, you can take the necessary steps to create a welcoming environment for these unique birds within your own backyard or local area. Learning about their distribution across North America will also help you appreciate their adaptability to various environments and their significance in the continent’s ecosystem.
Nesting and Breeding Behavior
Nest Location and Construction
Killdeer are unique in their preference for open nesting sites with little vegetation, usually in elevated areas such as hills or knolls with sandy or gravelly ground. They have also been known to nest along roadsides, in parking lots, or even near people’s homes [source]. The male selects a nesting territory and may create several shallow depressions in the ground for potential nesting sites before the pair ultimately chooses one [source].
Incubation Period and Hatching
Once the nest location is established, the female will lay her eggs, which will be incubated by both parents for a little over three weeks [source]. During incubation, the parents take turns keeping the eggs warm and safe from predators. Breeding season for Killdeer typically begins in March in the southern regions, while in Canada, it may not start until June [source].
Killdeer Chicks and Parental Care
When the Killdeer chicks hatch, they are precocial, meaning they are already able to walk and forage shortly after hatching. Both parents continue to care for and protect their chicks from potential danger [source]. It’s important to remember that, despite being able to walk and forage on their own, Killdeer chicks still rely on their parents for warmth, guidance, and protection until they fledge and can fend for themselves.
Broken-Wing Display and Distractions
One of the most fascinating behaviors of Killdeer is their broken-wing display, used as a distraction to protect their eggs or chicks from predators [source]. When a potential threat such as an animal or human gets too close to their nest or young, a Killdeer parent will feign injury, dragging one wing on the ground as if it’s broken while letting out a loud, pitiful call. This display lures the predator away from the nest by making the Killdeer appear vulnerable and easy to catch. Once the Killdeer has successfully led the threat away from the nest, it will suddenly “recover,” taking flight and leaving the predator bewildered and far from the vulnerable eggs or chicks.
Attracting Killdeer to Your Backyard
In this section, we will explore how to attract Killdeer to your backyard. By providing the right food sources, water features, and habitat, you can make your backyard more appealing to these fascinating birds.
Provide Food Sources
Killdeer primarily feed on insects, seeds, earthworms, and small vertebrates. To attract them to your backyard, consider offering these food sources. While Killdeer are ground foragers and don’t typically eat from bird feeders, sprinkling seeds or mealworms on the ground near the habitat you’ve created will make your backyard more appealing to them.
- Insects: Insects are a significant part of the Killdeer’s diet. Encourage insects in your backyard by planting a variety of flowering plants that invite pollinators. Native plants are especially useful for attracting native insects.
- Seeds: While Killdeer aren’t known for eating from bird feeders, they may forage for seeds that have fallen to the ground. Scatter seeds periodically in your backyard to assist in providing a food source.
- Earthworms: Earthworms can be attracted by maintaining a healthy lawn and soil. Avoid using pesticides, which can harm earthworm populations, and consider composting to increase the presence of earthworms.
Add Water Features
Having a nearby water source is essential for attracting Killdeer. Provide a shallow water source, such as a birdbath or shallow dish, to entice the birds to visit your backyard. If you have a larger lawn, you might want to install a small pond or water feature, as this can help attract not only Killdeer but also other birds and wildlife.
Create Suitable Habitat
Killdeer need a suitable habitat to nest and raise their young. They prefer open, grassy areas with nearby gravel or sandy surfaces for nesting.
- Large lawn: Killdeer often choose large lawns as nesting sites. Ensure that your lawn is well-maintained and free of tall grasses that can hide predators.
- Gravel or sand: Providing a protected gravel or sand area can help attract Killdeer, as they tend to lay their eggs in such places. Consider adding gravel or sand to a part of your backyard to make it more inviting to these birds.
By adhering to these recommendations, you can create a backyard environment that is welcoming and appealing to Killdeer.
Feeding and Foraging Behavior
Killdeer are versatile birds with a varied diet that mainly consists of invertebrates such as insects, crayfish, and snails. They enjoy eating beetles, grasshoppers, spiders, and fly larvae as well. Additionally, killdeer consume other small creatures such as worms, centipedes, ticks, and even small fish like minnows. While their primary food source is insects, they also feed on seeds and some small vertebrates like frogs, particularly tree frogs.
These birds have unique foraging techniques that cater to their dietary preferences. They are considered opportunistic feeders and are commonly found in open expanses such as mudflats, lawns, parking lots, and golf courses. This allows them to efficiently search for food and cover a wide area.
One of the most characteristic behaviors of killdeer is their “fechten” or feeding behavior. They typically run a few steps and then pause, pecking at the ground whenever they spot something edible. When searching for food in soft, muddy habitats, killdeer make use of their long, slender legs to stir up mud and expose hidden invertebrates.
Killdeer are also known to follow farmers plowing fields, as the plow turns up grubs and worms, which are easy pickings for these birds. Additionally, they often feed along marshlands, where they can find crayfish, snails, and small minnows.
During the breeding season, their courtship displays play a vital role in selecting a nesting territory, leading them to feed more extensively within their chosen area. Overall, the feeding and foraging behavior of killdeer is influenced by their habitats, dietary preferences, and unique techniques that help them find food efficiently.
Safety and Conservation Measures
Protecting Nesting Areas and Chicks
Killdeer, a species of North American plovers, are often found in grazed fields, athletic fields, and even parking lots. To support the conservation efforts and to keep baby killdeer safe, it is crucial to protect their nesting areas. One way to do this is by maintaining open, short-grass habitats like lawns and golf courses where killdeer like to nest. Additionally, at places like airports and shorelines where these birds may settle, it is important to minimize human activity and keep a safe distance from their nesting sites.
During breeding season, the female killdeer lays eggs with camouflaged eggshells that blend in with the ground. Consequently, it’s essential to be cautious while walking or mowing in areas where these birds dwell. If a nest is found, place a temporary barrier around it, like a small fence or a circle of rocks, to help prevent accidental destruction or disturbance of the nest.
Dealing with Predators
Predators, such as dogs, cats, and raccoons, can pose a significant threat to killdeer chicks and eggs. In order to keep the bird populations safe and protect their conservation status, you can take several steps to deter and manage these predators.
First, ensure that domestic animals like cats and dogs are not allowed to roam freely in areas where killdeer are known to nest. Keeping pets indoors or on leashes will help minimize any harm they might inadvertently cause to these birds.
Second, securing garbage bins and minimizing food waste in outdoor areas can be beneficial in deterring raccoons and other wild predators from approaching killdeer habitats.
Lastly, supporting ongoing conservation efforts to preserve and manage killdeer habitats is important. While killdeer are generally widespread and have a stable conservation status, it is crucial to keep these guidelines in mind to preserve their natural habitats and ensure the safety and longevity of their populations. Remember that killdeer are vocal birds whose distinctive “kill-deer” cry serves as a valuable addition to our natural surroundings, and their role as a shorebird helps maintain the ecosystem by consuming insects and small crustaceans.
Understanding Killdeer Call and Physical Features
In this section, we’ll explore the vocalizations and calls of the Killdeer, along with their physical characteristics. By developing a clear understanding of these features, you can better attract Killdeer to your area.
Vocalizations and Calls
Killdeer are known for their distinctive, shrill call that sounds like “kill-deer.” In fact, their name originates from this unique call. These birds use their call to communicate with each other and to ward off potential threats. Interestingly, Killdeer are considered quite noisy, with the 18th-century naturalists even calling them the “Chattering Plover” or the “Noisy Plover” (source).
At first glance, Killdeers may seem unobtrusive, but their warm, tawny coloration can help you spot them on green lawns, short-mown fields, and even parking lots. These large plovers have a few distinctive markings that make them stand out:
- Bill: Killdeer have a medium-length, straight bill that they use for foraging on various insects, seeds, and small vertebrates (source).
- Legs: These birds have long, slender legs that allow them to move quickly on the ground and are often a pale, orangish color.
- Body: Killdeer have a brownish upper body with white underparts. On their face, they sport a white forehead and a bold black-and-white stripe pattern that extends from the eyes to the back of their head.
- Wings: Their wings are long and pointed, which gives them a stiff flight pattern as they circle overhead (source).
Understanding the call and physical features of Killdeer can be essential in knowing how to attract them to your area. By recognizing their vocalizations and unique markings, you can create a more suitable habitat and increase your chances of observing these fascinating birds.
Migration Patterns and Seasonal Changes
Killdeer are fascinating birds known for their unique nesting behaviors and the distinct double breastband. These medium-sized birds migrate in response to seasonal changes, adapting their habits and traveling long distances to find more suitable environments.
During the summer months, Killdeer can be found in North America, particularly in the United States and southern Canada. As the weather warms up, they are known to move northwards and settle in various habitats such as fields, meadows, and even gravel roads. Killdeer don’t require a specific body of water nearby, which allows them a wider range of breeding territories compared to other bird species.
In the colder months, Killdeer migrate south to spend the winter season in warmer climates. They can be found extending their range all the way to Central and South America. The migration pattern of these birds is mostly influenced by the availability of food and suitable nesting areas. Consequently, ensuring a welcoming environment can increase your chances of attracting these feathered friends to your neighborhood.
To help attract Killdeer, you may want to provide them with a welcoming environment in your yard. This can include open spaces with short grass or gravel patches that resemble their natural nesting habitats. Additionally, keeping an area free from excessive vegetation and offering a clear line of sight will make it even more appealing to these ground-nesting birds.
Remember, the key to successfully attracting Killdeer is to create a habitat that closely mirrors their desired nesting areas. By understanding their migration patterns and seasonal changes, you can provide a suitable environment for these interesting birds and enjoy their presence throughout the year.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the nesting season for killdeer?
The nesting season for killdeer typically starts in late March and continues through the summer months. During this time, the birds will search for appropriate nesting areas and mate.
Where do killdeer typically build their nests?
Killdeer are known for building their nests on gravel or in other flat, open spaces, such as parking lots or fields of low-cut grass. They prefer areas with minimal vegetation and good visibility to keep an eye out for predators.
What time of year do killdeer lay eggs?
Killdeer lay eggs during the nesting season, which is late March through the summer months. They will lay anywhere from three to five eggs at a time, with a short incubation period of around 24 to 28 days.
Do killdeer have specific mating habits?
Killdeer display some unique mating habits, such as the male performing a display for the female, which involves puffing out his chest, spreading his tail feathers, and making a high-pitched call. If the female approves, she will mate with him, and the pair will jointly tend to their nest and incubate the eggs.
What can be done to provide a suitable habitat for killdeer?
To provide a suitable habitat for killdeer, consider creating a flat, open area with minimal vegetation. This can be done by mowing grass low or clearing a patch of ground, especially if it has a gravelly surface. Additionally, keep pets and other potential predators away from the nesting areas, and limit the use of chemicals and pesticides in the vicinity.
Are there any unique behaviors to look for when trying to attract killdeer?
One of the most noticeable behaviors of killdeer is their distinctive “broken-wing” act, which they perform to distract predators from their nests. If you see a killdeer apparently injured and dragging a wing, chances are it’s an attempt to lead you away from the nesting area. Also, keep an ear out for their loud, high-pitched “kill-deer” call, which is frequently heard at night.