I have only had the opportunity to see Killdeer in the wild once. I came across a pair this spring, on the side of Barbour’s pond. They were enjoying the soggy ground near the water’s edge. No doubt it was in the perfect condition for rooting out tasty insects and other invertebrates to eat. As the only “shore bird” that doesn’t really like the Jersey Shore, Killdeer are commonly found by fresh water ponds or lakes, in parks and even golf courses.
They struck me instantly as very comical to watch. A more nervous and neurotic looking bird I have never seen! Even its high-pitched call of “Kill-deer” seems fraught with anxiety. They sprint short distances, in the most awkward (one of my field guides referred to it as clock-work) style, halting suddenly and then remaining incredibly still for a moment before reaching down to take a bite of something. Their movements are perhaps more exaggerated by the shape of their bodies. Eleven inches long, they still seem to be too tall on their thin, stilt legs. Strangely disproportionate.
The Killdeer is not a particularly pretty bird. Both the males and females look the same, having a dull brown back with a white neck and belly, as well as some accents of white on the face. The most important and distinct feature of the Killdeer is the two black rings around its neck. It is the presence of two rings that differentiates the Killdeer from other Plover species, which all possess only one. If you are able to get close enough, you may also notice the eyes of the Killdeer. Large black pupils surrounded by a thin yellow-red iris, add to the appearance of nervousness and anxiety.
Killdeer are apparently most well-known for their distraction techniques. They are in fact, a primary example. When predators approach a Killdeer nest, one of the adults will act wounded, favoring a wing and lead the danger away from their nest. Once they are free and clear, they fly away to safety themselves. I hope that one day I will be able to observe more Killdeer and perhaps even witness this textbook maneuver for myself.