Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus)

Prepared by Paul Nicholson, London Bird Team, July 2022.

The Killdeer is in the plover family. Even though it isn’t always found close to water, it is a shorebird. All photos by Paul Nicholson.

The Killdeer is London’s most common shorebird. At 26 cm in length, it is a relatively large member of the plover family. The most obvious distinguishing field mark of the adult bird is a pair of black bands across its chest. (The Semipalmated Plover has a similar look and can also be seen in Southwestern Ontario, however it is a smaller bird and it has just one black band across its breast.) Killdeers have a rufous patch of plumage on the rump that may be seen in flight or when it is feigning injury to distract possible predators from a nest. The adult bird’s bright orange orbital rings around its eyes are also striking.  

 

A Killdeer’s primary source of food is insects so the species is useful to many farmers. Because of its diet, the use of insecticides can affect their food supply. They will also eat some other foods such as seeds or even tree frogs if the opportunities present themselves.

 

The Killdeer delights bird enthusiasts because it is one of the first migrants to return to the London area each year. It typically arrives in early March. In the fall, the last of them heads south in November. These birds are year-round residents of the southern U.S. and the Caribbean. Some will also fly into Central America and northern Colombia and Venezuela to overwinter.

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Left: Killdeers are ground-nesting birds. The nest, which is simply a bit of a depression scratched into an open earthen or gravelly expanse, is known as a scrape. The eggs’ mottled pattern provides camouflaged protection.

Right: Killdeer chicks start life as downy little puffballs. They develop a second breastband later.

The Latin name for the Killdeer, Charadrius vociferus, translates to shouting plover. This is appropriate since the bird can frequently be heard screaming killdeer-kildeer-killdeer. Listen to its onomatopoeic call here:

Click here to learn more about the life history of the Killdeer.

One of many reliable locations to see and hear Killdeers in London this year is out by the London airport. Dozens of the birds are in the construction patch immediately east of the McCormick Canada Wetland on Robins Hill Rd.

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One of the Killdeer’s protective behaviors is “broken wing” display. It is meant to distract other animals including humans away from a nest or chicks.

Help make London friendly for the Killdeer:

  • Cornell Lab of Ornithology reports that “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, Killdeer are vulnerable to pesticide poisoning and collisions with cars and buildings.”

  • Avoid use of pesticides and reduce your ecological footprint as much as possible.

  • Retrofit your home windows using bird-friendly materials to prevent bird-window collisions.

  • Submit sighting records using eBird or iNaturalist