Killdeer in flight
Killdeer in flight Killdeer in flight, Wichita, Kansas, United States © Bob Gress

Stories in Kansas

Killdeer

January 2018 Shorebird of the Month

Robert Penner stands with crossed arms, looking to his left and laughing.

Rob has worked as The Nature Conservancy’s Cheyenne Bottoms Preserve Manager for 22 years, increasing habitat for migrating shorebirds and nesting grassland birds at the world-renowned wetland.

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Shorebird Watching

at Cheyenne Bottoms

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I can't help liking the killdeer, perhaps one of the most noticeable of all shorebirds at Cheyenne Bottoms. Not because it can be be found in substantial numbers during migration, but because it nests along the roadsides and in the middle of access roads, so it is seen on a regular basis from March into November. Some years, I have the honor of hosting a nesting pair in my driveway or yard, and I take extra care not to cause any disturbance around the nest. It was a very long time ago when I started surveying shorebirds, so I'm not 100% positive, but I would guess this was the first shorebird I learned to identify.

Moreso than visuals, killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) are recognized by their call. Sometimes described at a high-pitched kill-deer, they are noisy. Listen to their calls here.

 

Fun Facts

Look down not up: killdeer spend a lot of time on the ground, walking or running in short bursts.

Nature's best actors: killdeer will pretend to have a broken wing to lure predators away from their nests.

Oldest known killdeer was recorded in Kansas: it was at least 10 years, 11 months old.

Charcoal drawing of a killdeer
Killdeer (Charadrius vociferous) Killdeer are a common shorebird found year round throughout the United States. © Robert Penner/TNC

Habitat & Range

Despite being classified as shorebirds, killdeer are usually found in dry, open areas with short vegetation - sandbars, mudflats, grazed fields, even parking lots. In North American towns and cities coast-to-coast, they inhabit driveways, laws, and golf courses year-round.

Conservation Status

Least concern. The population is decreasing but remains vast at approximately 1,000,000 individuals. Killdeer do not shy away from people and seek out human-modified habitats (like those golf courses), but they are vulnerable to human-made threats of pesticide and car collision.

Cheyenne Bottoms Area Status

An abundant migrant, common in the summer and rare in the winter. Spring migration starts in early February, bringing the first to Cheyenne Bottoms by the end of the month. Killdeer stay all summer and most have headed south by late November.

 

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Robert Penner stands with crossed arms, looking to his left and laughing.

Rob has worked as The Nature Conservancy’s Cheyenne Bottoms Preserve Manager for 22 years, increasing habitat for migrating shorebirds and nesting grassland birds at the world-renowned wetland.

More About Robert Penner, PhD