The killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) is one of the most common species of North American plovers. These shorebirds are found throughout Canada, the United States, and Mexico, where they prefer habitats with little to no vegetation, such as mudflats, shorelines, and mowed lawns. You are also likely to observe them hanging out in parking lots during winter.
Killdeers eat a varied diet of invertebrates, seeds, and some small vertebrates, but insects are their primary food source, including beetles, grasshoppers, and fly larvae. They commonly consume earthworms, snails, and crayfish in addition.
These shorebirds are also opportunistic feeders - when the opportunity presents itself, killdeer will feed on frogs, tadpoles, and fish. If you are curious to learn more about what this bird eats and how they find their food, read on! In this article, we discuss the diet of the killdeer in detail and answer the most commonly asked questions.
Killdeer foraging for food in the wetlands, Canada
Killdeers eat a wide variety of insects. Grasshoppers, caterpillars, beetles, and fly larvae are among their most sought-after meals. They also feed on dragonflies, caddisflies, mosquito larvae, ants, spiders, centipedes, earthworms, ticks, and other true bugs.
The killdeer finds food by patting the ground or surface beneath shallow water with one foot. This behavior is thought to draw out prey burrowed underground. These birds also probe into the mud with their bills or chase prey running along the ground.
Killdeers have adapted a few hunting behaviors. The most commonly utilized strategy begins with the bird running toward its prey, then stopping to wait. Once their prey moves, the killdeer rushes forward to grab the animal in its bill. These birds will also follow a farmer’s plow to retrieve tilled-up earthworms.
Killdeer foraging for food in the swamp
The killdeer feeds during the day and night. In early spring and summer, flocks are frequently observed in fields and parking lots well after dusk. These noisy gatherings typically involve foraging and socializing together.
The killdeer is only a partially migratory species. Most populations are year-round residents, overwintering in or near their nesting grounds. The birds' diet does not change much during winter - they still primarily eat insects.
In the winter, killdeers mainly eat Sod webworm adults and larvae are their most common prey. They also feed on beetles, grasshoppers, spiders, earthworms, and centipedes. Leftover seeds from agricultural areas are consumed throughout winter as well.
Killdeer in winter
The killdeer has access to its full array of food sources during the summer months. Insect larvae, earthworms, grasshoppers, spiders, and snails are common prey. Crayfish and other small crustaceans are also consumed.
Though these shorebirds mostly forage for insects, they are opportunistic feeders. When the opportunity presents itself, killdeer will eat frogs, tadpoles, and small fish as well.
There are no observations of killdeer feeding their young. Quickly after the chicks hatch, they follow their parents to feeding areas. These may include a pond, stream, ditch, or any other area with shallow standing or moving water.
The baby killdeer begin catching and eating prey on their own, with insects being their primary food source. They have also been observed eating crayfish.
Killdeer with their chick
You can feed killdeer mealworms or they may forage seeds from under your bird feeder or in your garden. However, they generally prefer catching and eating invertebrates, such as worms, beetles, grasshoppers, and insect larvae.
Killdeers primarily feed on the ground. They probe through mud or chase and catch prey running along the surface. Occasionally, a killdeer will catch a tree frog or insect that is perched on a plant or in flight.
A killdeer eating a worm
Killdeers frequently drink water from a stream or still pool. They are most often observed drinking after they eat.
The killdeer is attracted to open expanses of mowed lawns or fields, preferably with access to a nearby water source. If your property offers this habitat, you may entice these shorebirds to come forage in or near your yard.
Although killdeer will occasionally eat seeds from gardens and crop fields, they do not use bird feeders. Foraging on the ground is the killdeers preferred method of finding food. Keep this in mind when developing a plan to attract these birds to your yard.
Killdeer in flight
Killdeers do not eat their eggshells. However, they do carry broken shells away from the nest after chicks have hatched.
You can feed killdeer mealworms, but they prefer foraging on their own for spiders, snails, worms, insects, and crayfish.
Killdeers will occasionally eat seeds, but they prefer insects and small crustaceans. They are not attracted to bird feeders.
Bread is not a natural food source for killdeer, nor is it nutritious for them. It is healthiest for these birds to eat their natural diet of invertebrates and seeds.
Close up of a Killdeer
Killdeers will eat ticks. They also consume a variety of other terrestrial and aquatic insects.
The killdeer is an opportunistic feeder. It will eat tadpoles (and small frogs) when the opportunity arises.
Worms are a primary food source for the killdeer. Along with caterpillars, beetles, grasshoppers, and fly larvae.
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