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    Killdeer Life History


    Habitat GrasslandsKilldeer inhabit open areas such as sandbars, mudflats, and grazed fields. They are probably most familiar around towns, where they live on lawns, driveways, athletic fields, parking lots, airports, and golf courses. Generally the vegetation in fields inhabited by Killdeer is no taller than one inch. You can find Killdeer near water, but unlike many other shorebirds, they are also common in dry areas.Back to top


    Food InsectsFeeds primarily on invertebrates, such as earthworms, snails, crayfish, grasshoppers, beetles, and aquatic insect larvae. Follows farmers' plows in hopes of retrieving any unearthed worms or insect larvae. Will also eat seeds left in agricultural lands. An opportunistic forager, Killdeer have been observed hunting frogs and eating dead minnows.Back to top


    Nest Placement

    Nest GroundKilldeer nests are simple scrapes often placed on slight rises in their open habitats. Killdeer may make several scrapes not far away from each other before choosing one to lay in. The duplication may help to confuse predators.

    Nest Description

    Nest is a shallow depression scratched into the bare ground, typically 3-3.5 inches across. After egg-laying begins, Killdeer often add rocks, bits of shell, sticks, and trash to the nest. Curiously, these items tend to be light colored, and this tendency was confirmed in one experiment that gave Killdeer the choice between light and dark sticks.

    Nesting Facts
    Clutch Size:4-6 eggs
    Number of Broods:1-3 broods
    Egg Length:1.5 in (3.8 cm)
    Egg Width:1.1 in (2.7 cm)
    Incubation Period:22-28 days
    Egg Description:Buff-colored, heavily marked with blackish-brown.
    Condition at Hatching:Killdeer chicks hatch with a full coat of buffy down feathers and a single black breast band. They can walk out of the nest as soon as their feathers dry.
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    Behavior Ground ForagerOften seen in dry, flat landscapes, running and halting on the ground in search of insects and earthworms. Although the Killdeer is common around human habitation it is often shy, at first running away rather than flying. When a Killdeer stops to look at an intruder, it has a habit of bobbing up and down almost as if it had hiccupped. Near the nest, Killdeer distract predators by calling loudly, bobbing, and running away. Killdeer are some of the best-known practitioners of the broken-wing display, an attempt to lure predators away from a nest by feigning injury. Pairs of Killdeer tend to stay together for one to a few years.Back to top


    Conservation Low ConcernKilldeer populations declined overall by about 47% between 1966 and 2014, with steeper declines in Canada and the West, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. A 2012 study estimates about 2 million breeding birds in North America, an increase over numbers reported in a 2006 study. Killdeer is not on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List. These birds are found throughout the year in North America, Canada being host to mostly breeding birds. They can also be found in Central America and parts of South America and Europe. 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.Back to top

    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.

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    Andres, B. A., P. A. Smith, R. I. G. Morrison, C. L. Gratto-Trevor, S. C. Brown and C. A. Friis. 2012a. Population estimates of North American shorebirds, 2012. Wader Study Group Bulletin no. 119 (3):178-194.

    Dunne, Pete. 2006. Pete Dunne's essential field guide companion: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

    Ehrlich, P. R., D. S. Dobkin and D. Wheye. 1988. The birder's handbook. A Field Guide to the natural history of North American birds, including all species that regularly breed north of Mexico. New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc.

    Jackson, Bette J. and Jerome A. Jackson. 2000. Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

    Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2015.2. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2015.

    North American Bird Conservation Initiative. 2014. The State of the Birds 2014 Report. US Department of Interior, Washington, DC, USA.

    Sauer, J. R., J. E. Hines, J. E. Fallon, K. L. Pardieck, Jr. Ziolkowski, D. J. and W. A. Link. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, results and analysis 1966-2013 (Version 1.30.15). USGS Patuxtent Wildlife Research Center 2014b. Available from

    Sibley, David Allen. 2014. The Sibley guide to birds, second edition. Alfred A Knopf, New York.

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