Creature Feature

Watch for Nesting Killdeer 

By Wayne Bierbaum 

A few years ago, I drove my wife to a store in Deale. While waiting for her, I heard a high-pitched startled peep and saw a killdeer suddenly stand up from the graveled parking lot. It seemed to be startled by someone walking their dog past the store. The bird then started to walk away slowly, dragging a limp right wing. After the dog walker passed, the killdeer returned to where it started, but in a zig-zag start-and-stop pattern. By the time it returned, I had a camera ready and took a photo before she sat back down on her eggs. Caution stakes were later put around the nest. 

Killdeer are a type of plover, long-legged shore birds with short bills. They are tan in color with large reddish eyes and a dark bib-like collar. Their most distinctive attribute is their loud voice. When several fly together or get startled in a field they will cry very loudly. When they fly as a noisy flock, killdeer can easily be heard from a mile away. During courtship, males will call out loudly as they fly circles high over a female bird, hoping that she will join him.  

Because they are frequently associated with people, killdeer are probably the most commonly seen of the plovers. They can be found far away from the shoreline in playing fields, stone-covered roof tops and graveled parking lots. Food sources are insects and worms found along the edge of puddles, muddy spots, and short grass fields.  

In spring, killdeer lay brown-spotted tan eggs in a shallow depression among stones. The eggs are well camouflaged and are protected by the female. When danger approaches, she or the father will try to lure the approaching danger away by pretending to have a broken wing.  

As soon as the young are born, they can walk. The mother continues to protect them by keeping them under her wing as much as possible. After a month, the young are flying and able to live on their own.  

By mid-summer killdeer will start collecting in small flocks. The flocks migrate to the southern U.S. and Central America for the winter. The spring return starts in March but they show up around the Chesapeake Bay in large numbers in April.  

If you do see a killdeer pretending to have a broken wing, look around for the nest and mark it so that the eggs don’t get stepped on or driven over.  

Listen to their call on Cornell University’s All About Birds website or the Merlin bird ID app. After you recognize their call, you will be surprised how frequently you hear them.