A Killdeer’s Bag of Tricks

This little shorebird was spotted recently at Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo. Actually, I heard it before I saw it, as this little guy was making quite the racket!

The killdeer gets its peculiar name from the sound of its loud, high-pitched call, which supposedly sounds like the bird is yelling “kill-deer.” Killdeers are a type of shorebird called a plover. Plovers mostly eat invertebrates, such as insects. They hunt by running a few steps, probing the dirt or sand for things to eat, then running a few steps away and repeating the process.

As a species, the killdeer has more than a few tricks up its sleeve. Although these are technically shorebirds, killdeers have adapted to urban areas by expanding their comfort zone and using some pretty unlikely habitats, such as golf courses or even parking lots. They’ve even been known to lay their eggs on rooftops!

Killdeers also have tricks to protect their offspring. When certain predators approach, the killdeer parent will pretend it has a broken wing and thrash about to distract the predator away from the chicks. To my eyes, the act looks completely convincing, as the perfectly healthy killdeer flails on the ground, using one wing and dragging the other.

If that doesn’t work, the killdeer will use an entirely different approach to drive off large potential predators or enemies. The bird will fan its tail out above its head, fluff up its feathers and run at the predator, all while squawking as loudly as possible.

You never know what you’ll see at Nature Boardwalk. Next time you visit, keep an eye out (or an ear out!) for this little killdeer.

Vicky Hunt


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