Killdeer Mating, Nesting, Feeding, Habits Unveiled

Technically, the Killdeer bird is classified as an upland shorebird.

Most people's introduction to this bird is a nest found in the middle of their driveway.

When I see the first one of these birds at the local lakes I visit, I know Summer is on its way.

Description - What Does a Killdeer Look Like?

The Killdeer measures about 11 inches long. Both males and females have two dark bands that stand out against a white-neck background.

These two dark bands make it distinctive from other North American Plovers.

An orange-to-brown rump identifies this bird while in flight. A brown back and brown wings provide the camouflage it needs when feeding and nesting on the ground.

Adult Killdeer Feeding in Wetland

Both males and females look similar. Juvenile birds also look like adults, but the edges of their back and wing feathers are more buff than brown.

The young also have a single neckband while the adults have two. At their first prenuptial molt, the second collar band will show. This occurs in early spring.

Mating-Courtship Habits

The Breeding time for Killdeer begins in March if they are in the south, while in Canada it can run into June before breeding begins.

The male selects a nesting territory and may make several depressions in the ground for future nesting.

Courtship may include aerial displays in view of prospective females, and bowing dances done on the ground near nest site selections also occur.

The male is also well known for loud calling to attract females.

The pair is monogamous during the nesting season and may nest together in successive seasons.

Courtship displays happen whether or not the pair have mated in the past.

Up to 2 broods are raised each season, but new nests are built for the second brood.

Killdeers will return to the same habitat from year to year if nesting was successful.

Nesting Habits

Nest site habitat is varied. Even though they are shorebirds, their nesting sites can be found away from water.

Golf courses, shortgrass prairies, and even rocky areas such as your driveway may be used to nest.

4 Killdeer Eggs

Both adult birds take part in the nesting cycle. A slight depression is made in the ground, which may be lined with pebbles and grass.

Killdeer Nesting Stats
Killdeer Nesting Stats
Eggs 3 - 5
Incubation 24 - 28 days
Nestling Phase Leaves Nest When Down Dries
Broods 1 - 2

The female will lay from 3 to 5 eggs that are buff in color and heavily spotted or mottled. The average clutch size is 4 eggs.

Incubation is provided by both adults and lasts about 24 - 28 days. This is longer than most backyard birds.

killdeer walk towards camera on gravel trail

Killdeer Walking Trail

This longer time is necessary for the growth of the chicks as they will leave the nest as soon as their down is dry.

The young are pre-wired to know what to eat and begin searching for food soon after they leave the nest. The young will follow the adults pecking the ground for insects.

Of course, the Killdeer is famous for its predator-distracting display. Other birds employ this "act of injury" to draw predators from their nest sites as well.

This behavior usually includes dragging a wing on the ground drawing the predator away.

When predators are far enough from the bird's nest, the adult bird will fly away.

Feeding Habits What they Eat

So, what do Killdeers Eat? Mainly their diet consists of insects. The most common are mosquito larvae, beetles, fly larvae, grasshoppers, and sometimes berries.

Can I Move A Killdeer Nest

Killdeer often nests in driveways or other areas around humans that may not be safe from harm. So, can you move the nest?

The best thing to do is create a barrier around the nest site, such as some type of fence. This may deter domestic cats and dogs from getting too close.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act states that it is unlawful to move an active nest of a protected bird. (the Killdeer is protected) As the author of this website, I have to point that out.

I have known of people moving the nest a few feet (5 feet) while the female was watching without nest abandonment.

Others have shared that they've been able to move the nest a few feet each day until the nest was out of danger.

These particular nests were going to be destroyed if they had not been moved. This can cause nest abandonment.

I brought this topic up because I get this question a lot regarding this bird. Seems they're always nesting on someone's gravel driveway.


While a Killdeer have been recorded living 10 plus years, the average lifespan is 3 - 5 years.

Have more questions about the Killdeer bird? We've got a dozen answers about Killdeer birds for you.

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Birds and Blooms Pioneer Woman People Magazine First For Women