Thinking of the Midwest and its birds, one does not readily envision shorebirds, those species generally associated with coastal beaches. But every August and September, many shorebirds that have nested in the Arctic refuel on the margins of Midwestern lakes and rivers. Among them is a sort of inland shorebird – an oxymoron but as good a description as any: the killdeer.
Unlike many of its cousins, killdeer do not migrate to Arctic tundra to breed. They can be found nesting in around Barrington in summer months, usually on open ground, especially on gravel, or even on pebble-covered rooftops. Well do I remember the time that I nearly crushed a killdeer nest and eggs that lay camouflaged on a friend’s gravel driveway on Sutton Road.
The killdeer is a member of the plover family. Its relatives include black-bellied, golden , and semi-palmated plovers, all of which nest in far northern latitudes; piping plovers which breed on the shores of the Great Lakes, prairie potholes of the Plains, and Atlantic Ocean; and Wilson’s plovers, found on south Atlantic beaches. In contrast, the killdeer often nests far from water, even though it technically is classified as a shorebird.
It is a striking bird. Like its plover cousins, the killdeer is a bird of rounded contours, though it is longer and sleeker than the others. I often tell beginning birders who are trying to distinguish plovers from sandpipers that “plovers are plump.” The killdeer’s head is round, its back brown, underparts white, and it sports two striking black chest bands. When it flies or when an adult attempts to direct potential nest intruders with a broken-wing act, the flared tail reveals handsome chestnut feathers.
But even more striking than its field marks is the call of the killdeer, from which comes its name: Kill-deer! Kill-deer! Kill-deer! The call is shrill, piercing, and unmistakable. Often you will hear a killdeer long before you see it.
Killdeer are short-distance migrants. They do not make the ultra-long flights that many shorebirds do between southern hemisphere wintering grounds and breeding territory in the extreme northern hemisphere. Instead killdeer winter largely in the southern part of our country, sometimes extending to Mexico and northern South America. They return early to the Barrington area, often arriving in late March. Their clarion call is a welcome sign of spring.
Like all shorebirds, killdeer nest on the ground – in fields, parking lots, sandbars, lawns – most often on gravelly areas which provide good camouflage for their mottled eggs. Like other shorebird hatchlings, the chicks are precocial, which means that they hatch with eyes wide open and ready to run about. One friend describes the babies aptly as fluffballs on toothpicks.
Because of the instant freedom to roam, the chicks give the parents plenty of challenge for the two to three weeks they take to mature. It is during that period that, should you unwittingly approach too close to a chick or nest, one or both parents will noisily feign a broken wing in an effort to distract and lead you away from the nest or young.
Nesting season has ended for local killdeer, as it has for other summer breeders. In September you can predictably find killdeer on the mudflats of Baker’s Lake or at Flint Creek Savanna or simply high above, beating their way south, announcing their presence and identity with Kill-deer! Kill-deer! Kill-deer!
Upcoming Bird Hikes
Barrington’s Fall Bird Hikes with naturalist Wendy Paulson are back! Cosponsored by Audubon Chicago Region and Citizens for Conservation, get out and enjoy fall migration with Wendy’s upcoming series of free walks which are open to the public. Space is limited and RSVP’s are required. Good walking shoes are strongly recommended and don’t forget your binoculars! Here’s the schedule of upcoming walks:
limited and RSVPs are required.
September 5, 3:30PM
Bakers Lake (parking lot on Highland Ave. south of Hillside Ave., Barrington)
September 15, 7:30AM
Galloping Hill (park at Penny Road Pond parking lot in Barrington Hills)
September 22, 7:30AM
Penny Road South (park at Penny Road Pond parking lot in Barrington Hills)
September 29, 8:00AM
Flint Creek Savanna ( CFC headquarters, 459 W.Hwy 22, Lake Barrington)
October 6, 8:00AM
Beese Park (meet at Beese Park, east end of Cornell Ave.,Barrington)
Before you head out, please be sure to check the Citizens for Conservation website for any last minute changes or cancellations. Please RSVP to: Dan Jacobson (847) 328-1250 ext. 10 or firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know how best to reach you should that be necessary.
About the Author
Wendy Paulson has lived in Barrington Hills since 1975, and has led bird walks in the area for many years. She re-established the Nature Lady program in District 220 and St. Anne’s in the late 70s, under the auspices of The Garden Club and Little Garden Club of Barrington.
Wendy developed the education program for Citizens for Conservation, initiated and edited its newsletter, and has been an active volunteer with CFC for over 30 years.
During interludes in New York City and Washington, DC, she taught classes about birds in the public schools and is helping to develop a similar program in Chicago public schools with Openlands.
Wendy is chairman of The Bobolink Foundation, serves on the board or advisory committee of multiple conservation and bird-related organizations, both domestic and international, and is former chairman of IL and NY chapters of The Nature Conservancy.
She and her husband Hank have two grown children and are avid hikers, cyclists, and kayakers.
For more information about a cause close to Wendy’s heart here in Barrington, visit CitizensForConservation.org. Wendy is also a regular contributor at 365Barrington.com sharing profiles of birds found in the Barrington area. CLICK HERE to read all of Wendy’s posts published in our Birds of Barrington series and watch for her next contribution which will be published early next month.
Do you have a question about birds you’ve seen in Barrington? Just enter you question in the comments box for this post and we’ll ask Wendy!