What is a Killdeer?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 23 November 2019
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Killdeer are a species of plover which can be found abundantly throughout the Americas. These birds are famous for their piercing “dee dee dee” cry, and thanks to their adaptability, they can be found in a wide range of habitats and locations, from remote shorelines to parking lots. Many people enjoy watching killdeer, because these birds have a characteristic mode of movement which some people find amusing to observe.

Like other plovers, killdeer are small, with compact, muscular bodies, long legs designed for wading, heavy chests marked with two black bars, short tails, and stubby beaks. They feed on insects, grubs, worms, and an assortment of small invertebrates, seeking their prey by sight. As a result, the birds move in a jerking fashion, bobbing their heads as they look for food. A flock of killdeer can look quite preposterous, with the tiny birds jerking and bobbing across a wide stretch of land, and small squabbles erupting as delicacies are discovered.

These wading birds prefer moist environments like marshes, streams, seashores, and the shores of lakes and rivers, but they can thrive in other locations, as well. They are among the most adaptable of the plovers, often doing very well in heavily modified environments, and living peaceably with human populations. This can actually be dangerous for the birds, since killdeer are at risk of collisions with cars and poisoning from various chemicals which are often abundant around human settlements.


Killdeer are serially monogamous, picking new mates each year and building nests on the ground in shallow scrapes. They typically lay four eggs, and their young are precocial, meaning that they spend more time in the egg so that they are mobile as soon as they hatch. As soon as baby killdeer dry off after their emergence from the egg, they can bob and weave behind their parents, learning how to hunt for food to eat.

The killdeer's formal name is Charadrius vociferus, a reference to the piercing cry of the birds. In addition to being known for their cry, killdeer are also famous for mimicking a broken wing to distract predators and other threats to their nests. For this reason, if you see a killdeer which appears to have a broken wing, you shouldn't be too concerned, as there is a very good chance that the bird is faking it to lead you away from its nest.


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