Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Episode 411 (3-12-18): Killdeer are Shorebirds Away from the Shore

CLICK HERE to listen to episode audio (4:13).

Transcript of audio, notes on the audio, images, and additional information follow below.

All Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 3-9-18.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of March 12, 2018.

MUSIC – ~10 sec

This week, that music from Timothy Seaman of Williamsburg opens an episode about a shorebird that’s often seen far inland.  Have a listen for about 15 seconds to a bit more music and to some mystery sounds, and see if you can guess what’s making the peeping calls.  And here’s a hint that includes a rhyme for the name: approach its nest, and you will hear this bird.

MUSIC and SOUNDS - ~16 sec

If you guessed Killdeer, you’re right!  Kildeer are known for using calls and a pretended broken-wing ploy to draw predators away from their nest.  The Killdeer is one of nine North American species of plovers, six of which occur in Virginia.  In fact, Killdeer have been studied by Virginia Tech researchers to help learn about Piping Plovers, a federally threatened and endangered species.

Killdeer are named after their characteristic calls, which one may hear by day or night.  In past centuries the bird has been called “kildee” (again, for its call) as well as Chattering Plover and Noisy Plover, because of its reputation as an especially vocal bird.  Plovers are considered shorebirds, but the Killdeer is the least shore-connected member of the plover family.  The species is found in many open habitats with low vegetation, such as mudflats, gravel bars, and meadows, and in many human-generated areas like construction sites, graveled roads or rooftops, and lawns.   But, according to Cornell University’s “Birds of North America Online,” even in dry habitats Killdeer are “most often found near water of some sort, even if it is a lawn sprinkler.”

While Kildeer sometimes feed in water on aquatic organisms, and they’re considered good swimmers, they more commonly feed on the ground, running along and then stopping quickly to seize a variety of insects and other invertebrates.  Writing in the 1800s about this running ability of Killdeer, John James Audubon noted, “On the ground their speed is such that it has become proverbial, and to ‘run like a Kildee,’ is to move with the utmost possible agility.”

Thanks to Lang Elliott for permission to use this week’s sounds, from the Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs. Thank also to Timothy Seaman for this week’s original music, and we close with a few more seconds of “Killdeer in Action.”

MUSIC - ~23 sec


For more Virginia water sounds, music, and information, visit us online at virginiawaterradio.org, or call us at (540) 231-5463.  Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.  Thanks to Stewart Scales for his banjo version of Cripple Creek to open and close the show.   In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


“Killdeer in Action” was composed for this episode of Virginia Water Radio by Timothy Seaman of Williamsburg, Va., on March 6-7, 2018.  Click here to hear the full version (1 min./42 sec.).  More information about Mr. Seaman is available online at http://timothyseaman.com/en/

The sounds of Kildeer were taken from the Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs-Eastern Region CD set, by Lang Elliott with Donald and Lillian Stokes (Time Warner Audio Books, copyright 1997), used with permission of Lang Elliott, whose work is available online at the “Music of Nature” Web site, http://www.musicofnature.org/.

Thanks to Chelsea Weithman for information on Virginia Tech research use of Killdeer, provided in a personal communication on March 7, 2018.  As of spring 2018, Ms. Weithman is a master’s degree student in the Virginia Tech Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation.  Information about that department’s shorebird research is available online at http://vtshorebirds.fishwild.vt.edu/.

Click here if you’d like to hear the full version (1 min./11 sec.) of the “Cripple Creek” arrangement/performance by Stewart Scales that opens and closes this episode.   More information about Mr. Scales and the group New Standard, with which Mr. Scales plays, is available online at http://newstandardbluegrass.com.


Kildeer Plover (now known as Killdeer) painting originally published between 1827 and 1838 by John James Audubon in Birds of America (plate CCXXV [225]), as reprinted in 1985 by Abbeville Press, New York.  Photo taken March 7, 2018, from the reprint copy (no. 6 of 350 copies printed in 1985) owned by Special Collections of Virginia Tech Libraries.  Virginia Water Radio thanks Special Collections for permission to photograph their copy and for their assistance.  Information about Birds of America is available from the National Audubon Society, online at http://www.audubon.org/birds-of-america; the Kildeer Plover entry is online at http://www.audubon.org/birds-of-america/kildeer-plover.
Killdeer guarding its nest in gravel beside a service road at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge/Assateague Island National Seashore in Virginia, June 13, 2010.  Photo by Emma Kerr/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), made available for public use under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license; accessed online at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Killdeer_guards_nest_(5280460952).jpg on March 8, 2018.


The scientific name of the Killdeer is Charadrius vociferus.

Here are some points about Killdeer, excerpted from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, “Fish and Wildlife Information Service/Killdeer,” online at http://vafwis.org/fwis/booklet.html?&bova=040119&Menu=_.Taxonomy&version=17596.

Physical Description
“Average male wingspan [is] 154-167 millimeters (mm); average female wingspan [is] 147-170 mm; length [is] 228.6-279.4 mm. [S]exes look [the] same; …2 black bands; crest, lower throat and breast separated by white; rest of underparts behind lower band also white;…bill: black; legs and toes: pinkish gray to grayish yellow; chick has only one band across chest; swift, graceful, erratic flight.”

Nesting Habitat and Behavior
“[N]ests in open land habitats, pastures, golf courses, airports, gravel pits, roadsides, lawns; attracted to gravelly substrates and often nests on gravel roof tops; need some shallow water nearby; nest is a shallow depression, lined with pebbles, grasses, or weed stalks; flat white stones…and other light colored materials selectively used to line nest; select areas with little or no vegetation in the immediate vicinity of the nest on ground soft enough for digging…; tolerant of humans; ...female displays broken wing routine when flushed from the nest while male circles at a safe distance, screaming and calling; [this] injury feigning can occur as a result of young’s distress calls in addition to the sighting of a predator or human near the nest; both sexes also fly in faces of grazing livestock as they approach the nest; …bird may also pick and toss small stones and use ‘killdeer’ call; on the ground killdeer chases the intruder in a gliding run with the body horizontal, back and throat feathers ruffled, and tail spread and raised; …male is more agressive toward predators while female is more agressive toward conspecifics….”

Winter Habitat
“…[In winter more closely associated with water found along beaches, water courses, mudflats and in open fields.”

“…[F]oraging behavior: feeds in open areas, along margins of rivers lakes, and ponds, in pastures, meadows, cultivated fields; sometimes feeds in water…. If feeding in water, stands on one foot while the other is vibrated rapidly to stir up food while is pecked out of the water; …on ground, runs forward stops and suddenly seizes food from the surface rather than probing; 98% of food is gleaned insects; feeds on beetles and terrestrial insects (80%) and other invertebrates (20%); prefers beetles but also feeds on grasshoppers, weevils, caterpillars, ants, true bugs, worms, grubs, mosquitoes, ticks, crane flies, clover root curcubio, billbugs, wireworms, click beetles, corn leaf beetles, horse flies, crayfish, diving beetles, marine worms, caddis flies, dragon flies, centipedes, spiders, snails, crabs, weed seeds, grubs of June beetles exposed by ploving, clams, and aquatic worms. …[I]s active feeding in evening as well as day….”


Used for Audio

John James Audubon, “Kildeer Plover,” from Birds of America (1827-1838), Plate 225, accessed at the Audubon Web site, online at http://www.audubon.org/birds-of-america/kildeer-plover.

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, “All About Birds,” online at http://www.allaboutbirds.org; the Killdeer entry is online at https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Killdeer/.

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, “Neotropical Birds/Killdeer,” online at https://neotropical.birds.cornell.edu/Species-Account/nb/species/killde/overview.

Encyclopedia Britannica, “Plover,” online at https://www.britannica.com/animal/plover.

Merriam-Webster, “Origin and Etymology of ‘Charadrius,’” online at https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Charadrius.

Merriam-Webster, “Origin and Etymology of ‘plover,’” online at https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/plover.

Chandler S. Robbins et al., A Guide to Field Identification of Birds of North America, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2001.

Stan Tekiela, Birds of Virginia Field Guide, Adventure Publications, Inc., Cambridge, Minn., 2002.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “All About Piping Plovers,” online at https://www.fws.gov/plover/facts.html.

Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, “Fish and Wildlife Information Service,” online at http://vafwis.org/fwis/?Title=VaFWIS+Species+Information+By+Name&vUT=Visitor; the Killdeer entry is online at http://vafwis.org/fwis/booklet.html?&bova=040119&Menu=_.Taxonomy&version=17596.

For More Information about Birds

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, “Merlin Photo ID.” The application for mobile devices allows users to submit a bird photograph to get identification of the bird.  Information is available online at http://merlin.allaboutbirds.org/.

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology and American Ornithologists’ Union, “Birds of North America Online,” online at http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna (subscription required).

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology and the Audubon Society, “eBird,” online at http://ebird.org/content/ebird/.  Here you can find locations of species observations made by contributors, and you can sign up to contribute your own observations.

Virginia Society of Ornithology, online at http://www.virginiabirds.org/.  The Society is non-profit organization dedicated to the study, conservation, and enjoyment of birds in the Commonwealth.

Xeno-canto Foundation Web site, online at http://www.xeno-canto.org/.  The site provides bird songs from around the world.


All Water Radio episodes are listed by category at the Index link above (http://www.virginiawaterradio.org/p/index.html).   See particularly the “Birds” subject category.


The episode may help with the following Virginia 2010 English SOLs:

Reading Theme
8.4, 9.3, 10.3, 11.3, and 12.3 – knowledge of word origins, analogies, and figurative language to extend vocabulary development within authentic texts.

This episode may also help with the following Virginia 2010 Science SOLs:

Grades K-6 Earth Resources Theme
4.9 – Va. natural resources, including watersheds, water resources, and organisms.

Grades K-6 Life Processes Theme
K.7 – basic needs and processes of plants and animals.
1.5 - animals’ basic needs and distinguishing characteristics.
3.4 - behavioral and physiological adaptations.

Grades K-6 Living Systems Theme
2.5 - living things as part of a system, including habitats.
3.5 - food webs.
3.6 - ecosystems, communities, populations, shared resources.
4.5 - ecosystem interactions and human influences on ecosystem.
5.5 - cell structures and functions, organism classification, and organism traits.
6.7 - natural processes and human interactions that affect watershed systems; Va. watersheds, water bodies, and wetlands; health and safety issues; and water monitoring.

Life Science Course
LS.4 - organisms’ classification based on features.
LS.8 - community and population interactions, including food webs, niches, symbiotic relationships.
LS.9 - adaptations for particular ecosystems’ biotic and abiotic factors, including characteristics of land, marine, and freshwater environments.

Biology Course
BIO.8 - dynamic equilibria and interactions within populations, communities, and ecosystems; including nutrient cycling, succession, effects of natural events and human activities, and analysis of the flora, fauna, and microorganisms of Virginia ecosystems.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at http://www.doe.virginia.gov/testing/.

Following are links to previous Water Radio episodes (various topics) designed especially for certain K-12 grade levels:
Episode 250 (1-26-15
) – on boiling, for kindergarten through 3rd grade;
Episode 255 (3-2-15) – on density, for 5th and 6th grade;
Episode 282 (9-21-15
) – on living vs. non-living, for kindergarten;
Episode 309 (3-28-16) – on temperature regulation in animals, for kindergarten through 12th grade;
Episode 332 (9-12-16) – on dissolved gases, especially dissolved oxygen in aquatic habitats, for 5th grade;
Episode 403 (1-15-18) – on freezing and ice, for kindergarten through 3rd grade;
Episode 404 (1-22-18) – on ice on ponds and lakes, for 4th through 8th grade; Episode 406 (2-5-18) – on ice on rivers, for middle school;
Episode 407 (2-12-19) – on snow chemistry and physics, for high school.