BACKYARD BIRDING IN MERIDA, YUCATAN AND BEYOND – A FRIEND OF MANKIND: KILLDEER

Charadrius vociferus, Chorlito Tildio (Spanish)

Charadrius vociferus, Chorlito Tildio (Spanish) 

Other Names: Cheweeka, Killdeer Plover, Noisy Plover, Chattering Plover, Killdee, Meadow Plover, Pasture Plover

Two black necklaces adorn the 11 inch Killdeer which looks and acts like a sandpiper, but it isn’t. Although sandpipers form the largest group of shorebirds, the Killdeer belongs to the second largest shorebird family of plovers with 71 species. (It’s been ploverized!)

Killdeer

Certain plover species have larger heads and large eyes compared with sandpipers and their bills are shorter than their head length. Male and female Killdeer look similar but female heads may have more brown than males. Adults wear a stunning red eye ring. And for a function I’ve not found, some plovers lack a hind toe on their three toed foot including the Killdeer.

PHOTO 2.

Red eye ring and brown plumage possible female Killdeer
No hind toe on Killdeer foot

Often the literature cites how those two black chest bands on the white chest serve to disrupt the bird’s shape to confuse a predator by that disruptive or deflective coloration. Also, perhaps the orange rump feathers might attract a predator to aim there instead of a more vulnerable part. However, research lacks significant studies while other references state the Killdeer coloration may function more in social interactions with other Killdeer. (I observed the lengthening of the top band when the neck is outstretched and have a snapshot to illustrate that. Grass blocked the black band.)

Do black chest bands break up Killdeer shape to a predator?
Orange rump of Killdeer
Killdeer enlarges collar for communication
Showing the collar may be a territorial signal of the Killdeer

Where the Killdeer lives can mislead us to think of them as sandpipers since they occur at beaches, tidal flats, marshes, and coastal estuaries. But they hold the record as the most upland of shorebirds. Upland includes a variety of open habitats like open ponds, lakes, river shores, wet fields, areas with gravel or pebbles including gravel roofs, lawns, meadows, pastures, golf courses, plowed fields, airports, parking lots, and sod fields with or without sod! And they do not occur in wooded areas. That’s for shore!

Sod farm habitat of loose flock of Killdeer, with or without sod
Adult Killdeer in freshwater habitat
Short grass habitat of Killdeer

After reviewing where they live and their size, (these are NOT eagles) perhaps you’ve realized this bird does not kill deer, nor do they eat venison. For those who interpret bird calls, “kill deah” or “kill dea” gave this noisy species its most common name which it can cry nonstop especially in flight or when running. Oh, it has many other cries too.

SOUND LINK: https://www.xeno-canto.org/220907

Hunted for game until 1918, the Killdeer became “a friend of mankind” with its economic value due to its diet of a variety of insects, their larvae, snails, earthworms, and other small invertebrates that harm people or livestock such as mosquitoes, fever ticks, and horse flies and a variety of crops including cotton, corn, grapes, sugar beets, wheat, and grass. In addition it also preys on diving beetles at fish hatcheries and even marine worms in oyster beds. Plus it may occasionally feed on tree frogs and even dead minnows.

Diet of Killdeer includes primarily small invertebrates, like isopods

Killdeer may forage in loose flocks or alone, but they sleep in a large flock. To capture its food, it may pat the ground or shallow water bottom with a trembling foot (maybe that’s why it lacks a hind toe) or probe into the ground, or chase its prey by a running spurt with an abrupt stop and then run again and stop and then maybe peck at its food. The bird acts like it suddenly forgot something.

When the Killdeer spots a stranger, like me, it bobs its head up and down. I’ve renamed it the hiccup bird. Actually, that motion may help with binocular vision which assists in determining distance.

You could say that Killdeer “scrape by” at breeding season. A mated pair will defend their territory and form several shallow nests on stony ground, a gravel rooftop, near the coast, between railroad ties, or an area with short grasses like golf courses or lawns. The landscaper pair approach a site, lean forward and kick backward with their feet. Finally one well-camouflaged scrape is selected among the many depressions and the female may add a few pebbles, shells, debris or nothing.

Scraping behavior may also be used for male to advertise for female Killdeer

Typically four large eggs are nestled together with their sharper points centered down to assist the bird in covering them up. Both parents incubate and remove egg shells from the nest in case the white inner shells attract flying predators.

In case you’ve not thought about egg size, a larger egg contains more storage material and requires more time to incubate which ensures chicks hatch fully mature. Precocial young can see and leave the nest shortly after their down dries. The parents will lead them to feeding area for the young to feed themselves. Unlike their parents, downy young have only one  chest band. They can breed at one year of age.

Killdeer chick
Walking Killdeer chick
Killdeer chick can feed itself shortly after hatching
Chick of Killdeer has only one black band
Young Killdeer lacks red eye ring

I’ve got to share about those nests on gravelly rooftops. Usually the chicks have to leap off the roof or else die from dehydration, starvation, heat, or even asphalt roof fumes. Sometimes chicks can use a gutter downspout to access the ground. Records indicate chicks survived after a fall from a seven story building. Others are not as lucky even from shorter heights.

Killdeer feign injury using the “broken wing” method to distract a predator away from the nest or chicks. If the Killdeer nested near livestock, it will either use the broken wing technique or flare up its wings and run towards an approaching animal. This method seems to divert the larger animal away from the nest.

Parent Killdeer with chick

As both a common resident and winter visitor in Yucatan, it ranges from Alaska through Mexico, Central America to N South America and a resident population occurs in W South America. Birds live throughout the year in North America while Canada serves as host to mainly breeding birds. Killdeer may mix with other shorebirds during migration and wintering areas. Three subspecies are recognized.

WALK LIKE THE KILLDEER AND YOU CAN ENJOY NATURE BY WALKING, STOPPING, LOOKING AROUND, AND WALKING AGAIN! REPEAT MANY TIMES!

DISCLAIMER: References REALLY do not agree on data about this species.

A Field Guide to the Birds of Mexico, National Geographic Bird Coloration, Sal a Pajarear Yucatán, Bird & Reserves of the Yucatan Peninsula, A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and North Central America, A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica, Florida’s Birds, Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior, Lives of North American Birds, Field Guide to Birds of North America, Life of Birds, An Introduction to Ornithology, Birds of Venezuela, South Carolina Bird Life, Birds of the Carolinas, Stokes Field Guide to Birds, A Natural History of American Birds of Eastern and Central North America, Life Histories of North American Shore Birds, Part Two, Ornithology in Laboratory and Field, Handbook of Bird Biology, The Complete Birder: A Guide to Better Birding, Common Coastal Birds of Florida and the Caribbean, North Atlantic Shorebirds, Stokes A Guide to Bird Behavior, Vol. 2, The Shorebird Guide

Peter Boesman, XC220907. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/220907

http://hbw.com/species/killdeer-charadrius-vociferus

http://allaboutbirds.org/guide/Killdeer/lifehistory

https://birdsna.org/Species-Account/bna/species/killde/introduction

Cherie Pittillo, “nature inspired,” photographer and author, explores nature everywhere she goes. She’s identified 56 bird species in her Merida, Yucatan backyard view. Her monthly column features anecdotes about birding in Merida, Yucatan and also wildlife beyond the Yucatan.

Contact: all4birdies@gmail.com  All rights reserved, ©Cherie Pittillo

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