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A Nature Journal

Experience the natural world with east central Illinois master naturalists

The Killdeer - What an Actor!

Posted by Diane Wilhite -

The killdeer, Charadrius vociferus, is the shorebird that you can both see and experience without having to go to the beach.

During the breeding season, these plovers are found on expansive lawn areas and gravel beds where there is a pond or lake or river to be found nearby. They are spread year round across the southern half of the United States, but many come to the northern U.S. and southern Canada to breed during the summer, and some migrate as far south as Central America during the winter.

Killdeer are perhaps best known for their convincing broken-wing act, used to lure predators away from their nests. When not acting, they are often seen running over the lawn or gravel at great speed, in short spurts, in pursuit of their primary diet—insects.

These slender birds measure 9 to 11 inches in length and show off their 20-inch wingspan when they're trying to distract you just before the broken-wing act. They have a brown cap and back, a white eyebrow, white forehead, white collar, and two pronounced black bands across a white chest, a straight, thin black bill, a red ring around a dark eye, dark brown wings with a white stripe, pinkish legs, a quite vivid orange rump, and a black band on a long tail. Male and females look much alike. The birds are quite vocal when their nest is threatened; they burst out with a distinctive, high-pitched "kill-deer" call.

Twice during breeding season, three to five good-sized eggs are laid in a shallow indentation in gravel or on bare ground.  The eggs are well camouflaged to look like the gravel.  The male and female share responsibility for sitting on the eggs for 26 days before they hatch.


The chicks are precocial, meaning that they're able to walk, feed, and leave the nest the day they hatch. The parents then spend three to four weeks showing the chicks how to live off insects. Interestingly, this species is considered least threatened, perhaps because it is drawn to the lawn-gravel habitat that humans tend to create.

Article and Photos submitted by Dick Robrock (2007)

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