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Bird of the Week
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Bird of the Week: Killdeer

It looks great, it loves to sing, and it's one of the best actors in the animal world. What's not to love???

This week’s Bird of the Week is the killdeer. The first thing you might say to yourself about this bird is “lordy that name!” At any rate, that’s what I said to myself. Lordy, that name! It’s quite brutal and gives the impression that this bird was wandering around picking off Bambi wherever it went. But don’t worry! Bambi has nothing to fear from the killdeer, and neither do you.

The first reason Bambi can breathe easily is that the killdeer is much smaller than a deer. And it’s cute!

Credit: vladeb
Credit: Susan Young

Look at those rings, and the spindly legs, and the red around the eye, and the haughty stance! The killdeer is actually a kind of plover, which are little shorebirds that live all around the world. (Ironically, Cornell’s All About Birds database informs us that it’s “is one of the least water-associated of all shorebirds.”)

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The killdeer makes its home in basically all of North America and even a bit of South America. It has no time for deer. It’s busy spending time in some of its favorite spots, like…well…just about everywhere? Here’s how Texas Parks and Wildlife sums up the killdeer’s natural habitat:

 It thrives in open or semi-open areas and is at home in either dry or wet locations. An arid mesa or canyon can be as appealing as a home near a river or by a lakeshore. Plains and prairies, whether grassy or bare, and fields or pastures, whether cultivated or fallow, attract the birds as often as the marshes, beaches, bays, and lagoon flats of the coast. Killdeer also manage to live side-by-side with people, using airports, golf courses, and lawns as foraging areas. Pebbled rooftops serve as well for nest sites as dry gravel beds along creeks and rivers.

Essentially…just go outside right now. There’s a decent chance you’ll see a killdeer pretty soon.

The other reason that Bambi can feel secure about the killdeer is that the killdeer does not eat deer. It eats bugs! Including, takes deep breath and quotes from Audobon, ” beetles, caterpillars, grasshoppers, fly larvae, many others.” Oh, and “also eats spiders, earthworms, centipedes, crayfish, snails.” Oh, and “eats small amounts of seeds as well.” So go outside, look just about anywhere, and you can spot a killdeer, eating just about any insect…or a snail…or some seeds. This bird knows how to live.

“So why the hell is it called a killdeer?” you, or Bambi, might ask. Turns out it has nothing to do with killing deer! It’s all about the call of the killdeer. These birds love to make tons of noise (the scientific name for a killdeer is literally “Charadrius vociferus”) and people decided that their calls sounded kind of like “killdeer.” Watch these videos and see if you can pick it up.

Kind of???

Now I want to talk about the coolest thing the killdeer does: its “broken wing” hoax. This is what a mother killdeer does when it thinks a predator is getting too close to its nest. It does an elaborate pantomime where it wanders in another direction pretending to have a broken wing in order to lure the predator away from the eggs. Then, when it thinks there’s enough distance from the nest, it takes off. According to BirdNote, this works about 99 percent of the time!

And yes, there are lots and lots of videos of this.

Outstanding. Nature is the coolest. A bird that is no threat to Bambi and could win the Best Performance by a Bird in a Leading Role at the Oscars??? 10/10.