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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

Killdeer

Charadrius vociferus ORDER: CHARADRIIFORMES FAMILY: CHARADRIIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

A shorebird you can see without going to the beach, Killdeer are graceful plovers common to lawns, golf courses, athletic fields, and parking lots. These tawny birds run across the ground in spurts, stopping with a jolt every so often to check their progress, or to see if they’ve startled up any insect prey. Their voice, a far-carrying, excited kill-deer, is a common sound even after dark, often given in flight as the bird circles overhead on slender wings.

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Keys to identification Help

Shorebirds
Shorebirds
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Killdeer have the characteristic large, round head, large eye, and short bill of all plovers. They are especially slender and lanky, with a long, pointed tail and long wings.

  • Color Pattern

    Brownish-tan on top and white below. The white chest is barred with two black bands, and the brown face is marked with black and white patches. The bright orange-buff rump is conspicuous in flight.

  • Behavior

    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.

  • Habitat

    Look for Killdeer on 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. This species is one of the least water-associated of all shorebirds.

Range Map Help

Killdeer Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Chick

    Killdeer

    Chick
    • Single black breast band makes young Killdeer easy to confuse with Wilson's or Semipalmated plovers
    • Fuzzy appearance
    • Brown above, white below
    • White forehead
    • © bird dog57, Florida
  • Adult

    Killdeer

    Adult
    • Two black breast bands
    • Brown above, white below
    • Long wings
    • Red eye-ring
    • © ashockenberry, Ontario, Canada
  • Adult on nest

    Killdeer

    Adult on nest
    • Cinnamon feather edging
    • Pale legs
    • White collar
    • Short, straight, thin, black bill
    • © curtzsi, July 2008
  • Adult

    Killdeer

    Adult
    • Long wings
    • White wing stripe
    • Orange rump
    • © Tiny Gehrke
  • Adult

    Killdeer

    Adult
    • Orange rump
    • White wing stripe
    • White collar
    • Black and white bands on tail
    • © Kevin Klasman, Montana, August 2007
  • Adult

    Killdeer

    Adult
    • Orange rump
    • White collar
    • Often exhibits broken-wing distraction display when nest is threatened
    • © Eric Rosenberg, California, June 2007

Similar Species

  • Adult breeding

    Wilson's Plover

    Adult breeding
    • Large, thick black bill
    • Single black breastband, white throat and collar
    • Brown crown and face, white forehead and eyebrow
    • © Ryan Douglas, Puerta Jaguey, Puerto Rico, January 2009
  • Adult nonbreeding

    Semipalmated Plover

    Adult nonbreeding
    • White forehead and eyebrow
    • Single dark breastband
    • © Jim Paris, New Jersey, December 2008
  • Adult breeding

    Snowy Plover

    Adult breeding
    • Black collar patch, ear patch, and upper forehead
    • White forehead, eyebrow, throat, and collar
    • Pale brownish gray crown and upperparts
    • Short black bill
    • © Mike Baird, bairdphotos.com, Morro Bay, California, December 2006
  • Adult breeding

    Semipalmated Plover

    Adult breeding
    • Smooth grayish brown crown and upperparts
    • Black mask and upper forehead
    • White forehead; white throat and collar
    • Single black breastband
    • Short orange bill with black tip, orangish legs
    • © tsiya, St. Johns Co., Florida, April 2008
  • Adult breeding

    Ruddy Turnstone

    Adult breeding
    • Rufous and black mottled upperparts
    • Pale head, black and white patterned face and neck
    • Black breast pattern
    • © Bob Baker, Virginia, September 2007
  • Adult nonbreeding

    Ruddy Turnstone

    Adult nonbreeding
    • Reddish mottled upperparts
    • Black breast pattern
    • Indistinct brown and white face pattern
    • © Kevin Bolton, New Jersey, November 2008
  • Adult breeding

    Piping Plover

    Adult breeding
    • Very pale brownish gray upperparts
    • White forehead, eyebrow, collar, and underparts
    • Single black breastband and upper forehead
    • Short orange bill with black tip, orangish legs
    • © Billtacular, West Cape May, New Jersey, May 2007
  • Adult breeding

    Piping Plover

    Adult breeding
    • Single black breastband and upper forehead
    • Short orange bill with black tip, orangish legs
    • Very pale brownish gray upperparts
    • © Billtacular, West Cape May, New Jersey, May 2007

Similar Species

Killdeer are larger and lankier than Semipalmated and Wilson's plovers; the double breast band distinguishes adult Killdeer from these two species (and all other plovers). However, juvenile Killdeer have only one breast band and are often confused with these two species. Be sure to watch for signs of downy plumage, and look for the Killdeer to have pinkish legs and an all-black bill. Keep habitat in mind, too: if your bird is in a dry, grassy field, it's much more likely to be a Killdeer than any other plover.

Backyard Tips

Doesn’t visit feeders, but if your backyard or neighborhood contains expansive, cultivated lawns or grazed fields then you could find Killdeer foraging on your property.

Find This Bird

Killdeer are surprisingly unobtrusive even on green lawns, despite their warm tawny coloration. Look carefully over lawns, short-mown fields, and even parking lots, and listen for the far-carrying kill-deer. (When you hear this call, the bird may be in flight. Look for it circling you, flying stiffly on long, pointed wings. It may resemble an American Kestrel, at least until it lands on the ground and begins walking.) Though they're often found on dry land, you should also look for them on the edges of freshwater ponds and muddy lagoons.

Get Involved

You can help scientists learn more about this species by participating in the Celebrate Urban Birds! project.

Report observations of nesting birds to NestWatch

You Might Also Like

Visit the NestCams archives to watch killdeer at their nest.

Q & A: What to Do with a Lost Baby Killdeer

A Naturalist's Notebook: Displaying Killdeer, Living Bird, summer 2013