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Text and photos by Peter Vankevich
The Killdeer builds a sparse nest on the ground. It is famous for a behavior when predators approach its territory, it will act as if it is injured with a broken wing and will lead them away from the nest with eggs or the fledged young.
It is easily identified by two prominent black bands across the top of its white chest. The head and back are tawny and the lower back and upper tail-coverts are rufous. The forehead, undersides and eyeline are white and it has a black bill. The eyering is orange-red. Both sexes look alike. First year birds have adult plumage by December.
Although classified as a shorebird, Killdeers are widely distributed throughout North America from Alaska to Newfoundland and south into Mexico, and can be found many miles from water, preferring open areas where they can forage for invertebrates. Migration occurs in the northern areas of their range and the wintering range is as far south as Central America, Colombia, Venezuela and along west coast of Peru and Chile.
It is named onomatopoeically after its repetitive call.
A member of the plover family, it is the largest of six plovers that can be observed on the Outer Banks. See the link to the birds of the Outer Banks below.
Killdeers feed mostly on terrestrial invertebrates, including earthworms, grasshoppers, beetles, and snails. Less so, it will also feed on small vertebrates and seeds.
Both parents help with incubation and will stay with the chicks until they can fly. The young are precocial, i.e. soon after hatching, they leave the nest and are able to feed on their own. Two or more broods per year may be produced, especially with initial nesting failures.
Best time to see: Year round.
Where: Near beach parking lots including the north ferry terminal, the pony pasture, airport, the campground, flats, on the beach and the NPS Visitors’ Center in the village.
(audio provided courtesy of OhioLINK Digital Resource Commons)
Earlier names included Chattering Plover and the Noisy Plover which are attributed to the highly vocal nature of this species. In John J. Audubon’s Birds of America, he referred to them as the Kildee and provides this anecdote.
While I was residing in Pennsylvania, the son of my tenant the miller was in the habit of catching newly-hatched birds of every sort, to bait his fish-hooks. I had rather peremptorily remonstrated against this barbarous practice, although, I believe, without effect. One morning I met him returning from the shores of the Perkioming creek, with his hat full of young Kildees. He endeavoured to avoid me, but I made directly up to him, peeped into his hat and saw the birds. On this I begged of him to go back and restore the poor things to their parents, which he reluctantly did. Never had I felt more happy than I did when I saw the young Plovers run off and hide under cover of the stones.
Once the target of market hunters and in serious decline, the Killdeer is probably more common today than at any time in its history as a result of habitat changes brought about by humans.
However, the species is vulnerable to predation of eggs and young by mammals and other birds including Fish Crows, pesticides, oil pollution, lawnmowers, and automobiles. Breeding bird surveys have indicated that it may be declining in some western states.