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Charadrius vociferus

Length: 9 - 10 inches Wingspan: 19 - 21 inches Seasonality: Summer
ID Keys: Two black bands across it's chest, red eye ring, distinctive call

Killdeer - Charadrius vociferusOne of the most common bird sounds heard in South Dakota is the loud kill-deeeer cry of the Killdeer. They area a very common (and noisy) sight throughout South Dakota from spring through the fall..  Killdeer are known  for the adults' famed "crippled bird" behavior in trying to lure predators away from their nest by feigning injury.  Killdeer have become very accustomed to a human presence, even nesting in suburban areas where a flat rock-covered roof or an area of rocky landscaping may serve as a nesting site.


Killdeer can be found in a wide variety of open habitats such as pastures, fields, large lawns, shores, river banks, and mudflats. They do often hang out around shallow water bodies, but are just as at home in a heavily grazed pasture. They avoid areas of tall vegetation, and instead choose barren areas or areas of very low vegetation.


Killdeer are opportunistic feeders, feeding on a wide variety of invertebrates and other small prey. That includes many insects and their larvae, earthworms, snails, and crayfish. They have also been known on occasion to feed on waste grain.


Killdeer seem equally at home on the ground or in the air. They're often seen foraging in open fields, mudflats, or shorelines, where they often run several steps, stop and look for food, and then scamper on to the next site. Never one to let an intruder get by without a scolding, they will almost always give their famed kill-deeeer call when a human being approaches, often taking flight and circling to evaluate the threat. They are well known for their broken-wing displays, trying to distract a predator away from an active nest site by faking a severe injury.


May through June in South Dakota. The nest is usually just a simple scraped area on a gravel or sandy area, with bits of rock and vegetation sometimes added after the eggs are laid. Between three and six eggs are laid, with an incubation period of 23 to 27 days. Both parents help to incubate the eggs.


Killdeer have a number of different vocalizations, from the trademark "kill-deer" cry to piercing calls and more bubbling series of notes.


Killdeer in the Northern U.S. and Canada migrate to the southern U.S. and Mexico.  Southern populations are semi-permanent. In South Dakota, they are often one of the earliest migrants in the spring, sometimes arriving in March when it's still quite cold. They also can sometimes stay rather late into the fall.

Interactive eBird Map:

Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Killdeeer sightings

Similar Species:

We have multiple plover species that can appear in South Dakota, with brownish backs, white underparts, and various neck band patterns. Here are the species most likely to be confused with a Killdeer:

Semipalmated Plover 4 - Charadrius semipalmatus Semipalmated Plover 14 - Charadrius semipalmatus Piping Plover 2 - Charadrius melodus Snowy Plover - Charadrius nivosus
Semipalmated Plover Semipalmated Plover Piping Plover Snowy Plover

Conservation Status:

Widespread and common, and becoming well adapted to living in a human presence.  Nesting often occurs in and around suburban settings now, with birds even adapting to nest on a rock roof or in suburban rock landscaping. The IUCN considers the Killdeer to be a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information:

Photo Information:

August 13th, 2011 - Western Minnehaha County -- Terry Sohl

Additional Photos:

Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Killdeer photos.

Audio File Credits:

Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Range Map - Killdeer
South Dakota Status: Common and widespread throughout South Dakota

Additional Killdeer Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
Killdeer 1 - Charadrius vociferusKilldeer 2 - Charadrius vociferusKilldeer 3 - Charadrius vociferusKilldeer 4 - Charadrius vociferusKilldeer 5 - Charadrius vociferusKilldeer 6- Charadrius vociferusKilldeer 7 - Charadrius vociferusKilldeer 8 - Charadrius vociferusKilldeer 9 - Charadrius vociferusKilldeer 10 - Charadrius vociferusKilldeer 11 - Charadrius vociferusKilldeer 12 - Charadrius vociferusKilldeer 13 - Charadrius vociferusKilldeer 14 - Charadrius vociferusKilldeer 15 - Charadrius vociferusKilldeer 16 - Charadrius vociferusKilldeer 17 - Charadrius vociferusKilldeer 18 - Charadrius vociferusKilldeer 19 - Charadrius vociferusKilldeer 20 - Charadrius vociferusKilldeer 22 - Charadrius vociferusKilldeer 23 - Charadrius vociferus