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Killdeer of America a Charming Bird

Updated on August 9, 2015

John James Audubon

Audubon was a well know American Ornithologist and was considered to be one of the greatest wildlife painters of his time .{especially his illustrations of birds}
Audubon was a well know American Ornithologist and was considered to be one of the greatest wildlife painters of his time .{especially his illustrations of birds} | Source


Another article in the series about North American birds, looking at the species through the eyes of past ornithologists to gain their perception of the birds in their time. As is usual in this series there is a description of the bird with accompanying notes from Mrs Mabel Osgood wright who became President of the Audubon Society of Connecticut in 1889. But we commence with a passage from the Audubon himself from his famouse work 'Birds of America' {1840-1844}

" Reader, suppose yourself wandering over some extensive prairie, far beyond the western shores of the Mississippi,while your wearied limbs and drooping spirits, remind you of the necessity of repose and food, you see the moon's silvery rays glitter on the dews that have already clothed the tall grass around you.

Your footsteps, be they ever so light, strike the ear of the watchful Killdeer, who, with a velocity scarcely surpassed by that of any other bird, comes up, and is now passing and re-passing swiftly around you. His clear notes indicate his alarm, and seem to demand why you are there.! To see him is impossible for the clouds have shrouded the moon; but on your left and right, before and behind, his continence vociferations intimate how glad he would be to see you depart from his beloved hunting grounds;Nay, be not surprised if he should follow you until his eyes, meeting the glaring light of a woodsman traveler, he will wheel off and bid you adieu! "

John James Adubon

Mabel Osgood Wright


Mrs Wrights description and accompanying notes

Killdeer belong to the Order of birds known as the Charadriiformes and the genus Charadrius and given the species name of vociferus.

There now follows a description of the bird along with the accompanying notes by Mabel Osgood Wright {pictured above}.

Length nine to ten inches.

Male and female gray brow, washed with olive above;rump variegated with all shades of orange and reddish brown. White frontlet and red eye lids. Below , white, collar and breastlet of black. Bill black-legs light.

Once a summer resident but now rare, remaining from March until November.

You may hear this plover cry and yet never see the bird itself, though the black-banded breast, white frontlet and red eye lids make it very easy to nests in our marsh meadows, arriving in March with the bluebirds and song sparrows. According to Wilson, the Killdeer are somewhat nocturnal in their habits, especially in feeding upon the worms that then rose to the surface of the ground.

Their loud cry 'killdeer! killdeer!'-has all the shrillness of the Jay's scream, and the plover uses it frequently to mislead intruders or lure them away from the nest. Cove's says "they abound in the west, are not gregarious or maritime extensively, but somewhat irregularly migrating, and are very noisy birds"




" O little plover, still circling over

Your nest in clover, your house of love,

Sure none dare harm it, and none alarm it

While you are keeping your watch above"

" Now let me pass, sir, a harmless lass sir

With no designs of your eggs of blue,

I wish your family both health and wealth sir,

And to be as faithful and kind to you"


Illustration of the Killdeer

Lifestyle and habits of the Killdeer

Birds of the family Charadriidae, tend to have somewhat large heads with moderately long and slender bills which are shaped somewhat like those of a pigeon. The body are quite plump the neck is short and thick, they have long pointed wings that extend to the tip of the tail. The tail is short.

These birds tend to frequent uplands and lowlands, fields and shores. They seem to prefer newly ploughed fields, the banks of clear streams, and the elevated, worn out grounds, where they feed on worms , grasshoppers, small crustaceans and snails. Killdeer are forever alert, and always in a place where they can see everything around them. They may be observed {if you are lucky }running around in a small piece of the ground. After investigating that patch will fly to some pasture or stream and dart down again to explore another nit of the scenery. They tend not to form flocks or even small groups are unusual when they are at rest.

Somewhat like the dipper they have this habit of bobbing up and down when they are suspicious of an intruder or are getting anxious. if their suspicions are confirmed they are apt to run off,uttering their other lower call 'te-e-e-e-e-t'.

Their large eyes convey the fact that they feed at night as well as in the day time. And in the twilight as night draws in its dark veil the more familiar call of the bird can be heard. Wilson stated " They usually stand erect on their legs and run or walk with the body held in an horizontal position. They run with great swiftness, and are also strong and vigorous in the wings. When in flight they sometimes rise to a great height in the air. Their flesh is not very good but they are hunted for that purpose"

Mr.W.L.Bailey wrote of the Killdeer " The Killdeer is in every respect a beautiful bird. Whether seen at a distance, sailing or diving with such graceful ease through the buoyant air, or whether upon a nearer view, we look upon the lively tints of his exquisite plumage, we can not but feel that he his worthy of our notice, and to become the companion of our rambles"

Image of the Killdeer

Taken from the Book The Birds of Buzzard' Roost
Taken from the Book The Birds of Buzzard' Roost

Nest eggs and young of the Killdeer

Nesting for this bird usually occurs in April for the first brood, and in June for the second. Wherever the locality chosen it is nearly always near water of some kind for example a lake, river, creek,canal or pond. Sometimes it is placed in grass or besides an old log in a pasture or sparsely timbered woods. Sometimes it is on the muddy, sandy or pebbly bank of a stream, unprotected by even the slightest vegetation, but, ordinarily it is in a newly ploughed field adjoining some small pond or stream.

The nest is always upon the ground, either in a natural depression or in a slight scrape made by the bird. Considerable skill is shown in seeking a low spot, and, at the same time avoiding places where water from rains would either overflow or collect. Usually the female collects a few short weed stems or bits of slender twigs of a uniform size, and lines the bottom of the scrape. At times when the nest is in grass, blades of dead grass are similarly used. When the nest is on a gravelly shore or any other unprotected spot, no materials are carried, the eggs being deposited on the bare ground or upon whatever happens to cover the site chosen.

Eggs of the Killdeer


Eggs and young.

Four eggs are the usual number that form the set , however, in the second set the number is sometimes three. The ground colour is described as being uniformerly smoke buff. The marks consist of blotches, spots and speckles of dark brown, at times almost black. They are distributed over the entire shell in various degrees. usually the eggs contain several blotches {see image above} but now and again specimens have been found marked entirely with just speckles.

When the young hatch after the incubation period they are , almost at once,able to run, and the parent birds are very devoted to them. So much so that the female will resort to all kinds of ruses and demonstrations of her ability in order to divert attention from anything or any one that approaches the nest or young.

She will throw herself to the ground two or three yards in advance, raise and flutter one wing quite helplessly and cry piteously, in order to lure the intruder away from her young and thus giving them the opportunity to escape and hide. The male bird will fly overhead in a circle about the intruder and scold with his cry in the most vehement manner. This is a strategy that works more than it does not, the intruder confused and the babies escape to feed another day.

Killdeer with her chick

The image was taken in Minnesota United States. Note how well camouflaged the chick is.
The image was taken in Minnesota United States. Note how well camouflaged the chick is. | Source


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    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 4 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Eiddwen, Hi Eddy,

      Thank you for taking the time to read and for leaving your kind comments. They are appreciated. Best wishes to you.

      aviannovice, Hi Deb,

      It is true that birds do not change it is only us humans that do that, much of the time to the detriment of the birds and other wildlife. Thank you for leaving your welcome comments. Best wishes to you.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      After all these years, all the similarities then are still the same now. It made me smile to read this, as though it were my first discovery of the swiftly departing little Killdeer.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 4 years ago from Wales

      A great read and voted up.


    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 4 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Hi DDE,

      Thank you for being the first to visit ,once again, it is really appreciated as are your kind comments. Best wishes to you.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Incredible, nature has its beauty and the living creatures adds to such beauty. Great insight into this topic, KILLDEER OF AMERICA A CHARMING BIRD. The lovely photos adds to a well presented hub.