Our Bird Neighbors – Killdeer

(AEgialitis vocifera)


Length-9.50 to to10.50 inches. About the size of the robin.

Male and Female—Grayish brown washed with olive above; the forehead, spot behind eyes, throat, a ring around the neck, a patch on wing, a band across breast, and underneath, white ; front of crown, cheeks, a ring around neck, and a band across breast, black; lower back and base of tail chestnut; inner tail feathers like upper parts; outer feathers chestnut and white, all with subterminal band of black tipped with white. Bill black; legs light; eyelids red.

Range—Temperate North America to Newfoundland and Manitoba; nests throughout range; winters usually south of New England to Bermuda, the West Indies, Central and South America.

Season—Resident, March to November, or later ; most abundant in spring and autumn migrations.

A certain corn field used to be visited daily by an aspiring ornithologist, aged nine, for a peep at four little yellowish white eggs, spotted and scrawled with chocolate brown, that were laid directly on the ground, without so much as a blade of grass to cradle them. Every visit threw the old birds into a panic, which, of course, was part of the fun anticipated in making the visit. Kildeer, killdeer, dee, dee, they called incessantly as they whirled about overhead and screamed in the child’s ears; but still the eggs were relentlessly fondled, while the mother now frantically ran about, dragging her wings beside her, pretending to be lame; now sprang into the air and dashed about every which way, as if mad. In spite of much handling, however, the eggs actually hatched; and what was the child’s amazement after leaving them at nine o’clock one morning to return at ten and find eggs, birds, and even shells had disappeared! Later a brood of queer, top-heavy, long-legged, striped, and downy chicks was discovered running nimbly about the corn field, feeding; but what they did with their eggshells ever remained a mystery.

This common plover of pastures and cultivated fields, of lake-sides and marshes, or any broad tracts of land near water, that seems indispensable to its happiness, is in decided evidence be-cause of its wild, noisy cry even when we cannot see the bird; but the two black bands across its breast, its white forehead and red eyelids easily identify it whenever met. As a rule one sees flocks of these plovers only a-wing, for they scatter when feeding. Sometimes the kill-dee, kill-dee sounds low and sweet, with a plaintive strain in it; but let any one approach the bird’s haunts, and the voice rises higher and shriller until it would seem the strident notes must soon snap the vocal cords. Cows, horses, sheep, and the larger poultry that wander over a farm do not alarm these birds in the least. In their presence they are gentle and almost tame, but a man is their abhorrence in regions where they have been persecuted; elsewhere they are not conspicuously wild. Yet their flesh is musky and worthless from the point of view of the sportsman, who seldom wastes shot on it. A startled bird will run swiftly away rather than fly at first, stop occasionally to look back at the villain still pursuing it, crying complainingly all the while, and perhaps flutter in low, short flights to lure the intruder still farther away. But the killdeer, with its long, perfect wings, is a strong, steady high-flyer, however erratic and uncertain its flight may be when suddenly flushed by some innocent stroller taking a short cut through the pasture. Restless and full of fears, real or imaginary, there is scarcely an hour of the day or the night when its voice is not raised, until sportsmen have come to regard so keen a sentinel as a nuisance. Dr. Livingston met with a close kinsman of the killdeer in Africa that he described as ” a most plaguey sort of public spirited individual that follows you everywhere, flying overhead, and is most persevering in his attempts to give fair warning to all animals within hearing to flee from the approach of danger.”

On the ground, where the killdeer spends most of its time, it moves about daintily, quickly, even nervously; for it never remains still except for the instant when it seems to gaze at an intruder with withering contempt. Since worms, that are its favorite food, come to the surface after sundown, this bird, like many others of similar tastes, is partly nocturnal in habits; but grasshoppers, crickets, and other insects take it abroad much by day. It migrates chiefly at night, the killdeer, hildeer, resounding from the very stars.