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A Bird in Hand

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A Bird in Hand


Names aren’t everything. Frederick wasn’t really all that great and Joan was not with Noah on the arc. Or the ark. And the same is true in the bird world. Most Canada geese are not from Canada and sea gulls are not always located near the ocean—just check out the parking lot at the Ponderay Yokes market for proof. And this brings us to our bird of the month: the killdeer. It is a shorebird lacking a shore. In fact, it prefers a golf course over the waterfront. Even better, a stony field next to the train tracks.

Killdeers are a type of plover. Plovers are shorebirds, and yes the killdeer does often spend the off-season doing what plovers do: picking at bugs and tasty morsels from surf-washed beaches or fresh-water shorelines.  But typically they prefer to raise their brood in the continental interior and often far from a body of water. Instead expanses of land without brush or tall grass, such as city parks and rocky areas, become the preferred areas to raise the family. This makes them easy birds to find and identify. Plus, killdeer are well habituated to living around humans and tend to be quite approachable.

The first thing you will encounter with the killdeer is its call, kill-dee and this is something most everyone has probably heard. The bird often calls while in flight and when flushed they do not fly very far. They like to stay in their neighborhood.

Killdeer are about the size of a robin, but unlike the statuesque robin killdeer hold their bodies parallel to the ground. The don’t have much of a neck and are a bit more leggy than a robin. You will also notice that they tend to run in spurts—run, pause, run, pause. Killdeer have a white underside and breast and their backs and wing covers range anywhere from a golden to tawny brown. But the definitive field mark are the twin bands on the breast. The top band might completely ring the neck and the lower one runs from shoulder to shoulder. There may even be a third stripe, but always at least two. No other plover will have this combination. For fashion’s sake, the bird will also sport a black headband and a matching brown cap.

The killdeer nest is just an unlined scrape in the earth. The eggs are perfectly camouflaged and extremely difficult to find. They look like stones. If you happen to unwittingly stray near a nest you might be given a fascinating show by one of the parent birds. The adult bird will attempt to lure you, a potential predator, away from its nest be pretending to be wounded. The bird will draw attention to itself by calling out loudly, display orange rump feathers, and limp along the ground faking a “broken” wing. If you were a coyote you wouldn’t be able to resist the sight. Dinner! The adult bird will continue to play wounded until it can draw you sufficiently far enough away from its nest.

Where can you find killdeer in your area? Go to the nearest ball field, school yard, city park, horse pasture, or barren field and there should be at least one mated pair. They will call out as you approach them and fly off with rapid little beats of the wing and then quickly soar to a landing a short distance away, often circling behind you. You are being watched!

If you are novice to birding or want to introduce your children to this life-long and engaging hobby, the killdeer is for you. They’re handsome birds, they make great sounds, and if you can get them to “break” a wing for you, it is quite memorable. And if you are lucky enough to find their nest, you’ll never encounter a better example of camouflage. Good luck and happy birding!

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Author info

Michael Turnlund Michael Turnlund is a Sandpoint resident who teaches at Clark Fork High School. An avid birder, he's happy to share his knowledge of the area's avian wildlife

Tagged as:

outdoors, birding, killdeer, plover

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