Wednesday, May 3, 2017


Killdeer Are Early Nesters

This week I have found or been made aware of two active Killdeer nests.  The one I photographed today had 4 eggs in it and the adults were beginning to incubate the eggs.  Both nests are located in active human areas, one on the side of a gravel road and one on the edge of a football field.

The Killdeer ( Charadrius vociferus) is a large plover, about 27 cm (10.5 inches) long.  It returns faithfully every year to our area to breed and raise its young.  It prefers open areas, fields, parking lots, gravel areas, and playing fields.   Although it is a shorebird, it is rarely seen near water.  It feeds on insects, worms, invertebrates, snails and occasionally seeds and small vertebrates.  

The Killdeer is easy to identify with its double breast band.  It is dark brown on its back and white underneath.  It has a rufous rump and tail.  It is very noisy, readily saying its own name.  It calls loudly when approached by humans.  It is known for its broken-wing display as shown in the photo below.  It does this to presumably lead intruders away from its nest.  Both adults were doing this today as I searched for its nest. 

The Killdeer builds its nest in an open site often near human activity.  The nest shown below was on the side of a gravel road.  Note the lack of nest construction, just a depression made among the small stones.  The eggs are well camouflaged in the gravel with their grey and brown spots.  This nest was very difficult to see even when standing near it!  Both adults incubate the eggs which hatch in 24-28 days.  The young chicks are very mobile and have only one breast band.  They have long legs and are able to move with the adults soon after hatching.  The young soon change plumages to the two breast bands.

Killdeer Nest
Killdeer Sitting on Nest
The adult sitting on the nest is also well camouflaged as shown above.  The bird will often remain on the eggs as activity goes on around it.  This species has adapted well to modern civilization.  It occupies a broad range, from eastern Alaska eastward to Newfoundland and south to include most of Canada.  It winters from the mid-USA to South America and the Caribbean Islands.

The only other similar species found here is the Semipalmated Plover.  It is a bit smaller and has only one breast band, so is easily differentiated from the Killdeer.  The Killdeer's noisy call is its trademark and it is a welcome sound in early spring.  In slow springs like this year it certainly is a welcome sound!

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