Arkansas Nature Trivia

Killdeer Fake Injury to Protect the Nest

By Renn Tumlison

Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus ) belong to the plover family (Charadriidae), a family of small to medium-sized shorebirds. These long-legged, brown and white birds have two black bands across the chest, giving them a "ringed" appearance. The killdeer gets its common name from its shrill "kill-deee, kill-deee" call, and its species name, vociferus, refers to the tendency of the bird to be rather noisy. Killdeer do not build much of a nest, and usually lay their eggs in rocky areas or even in cracks of the concrete in parking lots. This increases the risk of being found by a predator, so they have special behaviors and adaptations to protect the nest.

A killdeer sitting still on a nest blends in with the environment fairly well.

Once danger comes too close, the bird gets up off the nest, exposing the eggs but...

drawing attention to itself by beginning to spread the tail feathers.

The wings are dropped into positions that make the bird appear to be hurt and incapable of flight. Then, the bird attempts to lead the threat away from the nest.

 

As long as the bird holds the attention of the danger, it moves away from the nest, constantly making noise and feigning that it is injured. This helps attract the threat away from the nest.

The abandonment of the nest leaves the eggs exposed, but they are camouflaged, so they are not easily seen by predators. Also, the eggs have an odd shape that helps keep them from rolling out of the nest. 

Having led the perceived danger away from the nest, the killdeer suddenly "gets better," assumes an upright posture, and will fly away. It eventually circles the area and returns to incubate the eggs in the nest.