Killdeer

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Image:Killdeer.jpg

Common Name: Killdeer
Scientific Name: Charadrius vociferus

Size: 8-11 inches (20-28 cm)

Habitat: North and Central America; across most of Canada, the United States, and Mexico, with isolated populations in Costa Rica and in the Pacific coast of South America. They are migratory in northern areas and winter as far south as northern South America. They are rare vagrants to Western Europe, usually late in the year. Common to open ground with low vegetation (or no vegetation at all), including lawns, golf courses, driveways, parking lots, and gravel-covered roofs, as well as pastures, fields, sandbars and mudflats. Generally the vegetation in fields inhabited by Killdeer is no taller than one inch. This species is one of the least water-associated of all shorebirds.

Status: Least Concern. Global population: 1,000,000. The Killdeer is one of the most successful of all shorebirds because of its fondness for human modified habitats and its willingness to nest close to people. Because they live so close to people, however, they are vulnerable to pesticide poisoning and collisions with cars and buildings. The Killdeer is protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

Diet: Invertebrates, such as earthworms, snails, crayfish, grasshoppers, beetles, and aquatic insect larvae. It will follow a farmers' plow in hopes of retrieving any unearthed worms or insect larvae. Will also eat seeds left in agricultural lands. An opportunistic forager, Killdeer have been observed hunting frogs and eating dead minnows.

Nesting: The nest is a shallow depression scratched into the bare ground, typically 3-3.5 inches across. It type of nest is called a scrape. Killdeer may make several scrapes not far away from each other before choosing one to lay in. The duplication may help to confuse predators. Eggs are buff-colored, heavily marked with blackish-brown and usually 4-6 are laid.

The male and female of a mated pair pick out a nesting site through a ritual known as a scrape ceremony. The male lowers his breast to the ground and scrapes a shallow depression with his feet. The female then approaches, head lowered, and takes his place. The male then stands with body tilted slightly forward, tail raised and spread, calling rapidly. Mating often follows.

After egg-laying begins, Killdeer often add rocks, bits of shell, sticks, and trash to the nest. Curiously, these items tend to be light colored, and this tendency was confirmed in one experiment that gave Killdeer the choice between light and dark sticks. Some of these items they pick up as they are leaving and toss over their shoulder into the nest. In one nest in Oklahoma, people found more than 1,500 pebbles had accumulated this way

Cool Facts: Killdeer get their name from the shrill, wailing kill-deer call they give so often. Eighteenth-century naturalists also noticed how noisy Killdeer are, giving them names such as the Chattering Plover and the Noisy Plover.

Killdeer spend their time walking along the ground or running ahead a few steps, stopping to look around, and running on again. When disturbed they break into flight and circle overhead, calling repeatedly.

Their flight is rapid, with stiff, intermittent wingbeats.

While the Killdeer is a well-known denizen of dry habitats, it is actually a proficient swimmer. Adults swim well in swift-flowing water, and chicks can swim across small streams.

Gravel rooftops attract Killdeer for nesting, but can be dangerous places to raise a brood. Chicks may be unable to leave a roof because of high parapets and screened drain openings. Adults eventually lure chicks off the roof, which can be dangerous – although one set of chicks survived a leap from a seven-story building.

Killdeer like other plover’s will faint injury to protect their nests. The broken-wing act leads predators away from a nest, but doesn’t keep cows or horses from stepping on eggs. To guard against large hoofed animals, the Killdeer uses a quite different display, fluffing itself up, displaying its tail over its head, and running at the beast to attempt to make it change its path.

The oldest known Killdeer was 10 years 11 months old.


Found in Songbird ReMix Shorebirds Volume 3: Small Waders

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