Wild Profile: Meet the killdeer

Published: March 23, 2021

An adult killdeer wading into the water By Brian Lasenby/Shutterstock

The killdeer has a neat trick up its sleeve when it comes to survival. Because these wading birds nest in open areas—pastureland, for example—they can detect predators from far away. If they sense an intruder (including a human), they’ll squawk shrilly (Kill-dee! Kill-dee! Kill-dee!), wobble away from the nest, and flop around as if with a broken wing. They’ll twitter painfully, drawing attention to themselves and pulling the predator away from any eggs or nestlings.

It’s usually male killdeers that perform this sneaky distraction strategy. Once they’ve drawn the predator far enough from the nest, they’ll burst into flight and escape. Ha ha, predator. Fooled you.

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Even when they’re not attempting to lure interlopers, killdeers are chatty. Their cries seem always…a little irritated—high-pitched and repetitive. That’s probably why they’re also called the “chattering plover” or the “noisy plover.”

Killdeers tend to return to the same nesting areas every year, usually in late March once the snow melts, after spending the winter in the U.S. Males prepare the nests by scraping a depression into the dirt, then both parents take turns incubating the eggs. Baby killdeers can peep and listen to Mom and Dad while still in their shells. They’re born downy and able to roam around a few hours after hatching. Since they’re already used to the sound of their parents’ voices, they know to freeze when Dad busts out his noisy distraction strategy. Clever little killdeer!

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