Killdeer Habitat Model
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Draft Date:
March, 2001

Killdeer, Charadrius vociferus

Use of Study Area Resources:
Reproduction, migration, wintering. Breeds across most of North America; winters from southern Massachusetts to South America (Johnsgard 1981, DeGraaf and Rudis 1986).

Habitat Requirements:
Killdeer nest in open dry uplands, meadows, agricultural fields, golf courses, road margins, and disturbed or heavily grazed areas where vegetation is short, sparse, or absent (DeGraaf & Rappole 1995, Johnsgard 1981, Mace 1978). Use of savannas and a wide range of other grassy or wetland habitats, including estuaries has also been documented (Hayman et al. 1986). In Ontario, Nol and Lambert (1984) found killdeer nesting on wide, undisturbed beaches at the base of wooded ridges, bordered by Lake Erie to the south and by cattail marshes to the north.  Johnsgard (1981) summarizes typical nest habitat as having little or no vegetation and either offering nest materials or ground soft enough to form a scrape.

Chicks are precocial and leave the nest within two days of hatching (Davis 1943 in Ankney 1985) to forage with the adults. Killdeer lead their young over long distances (greater than 100 m) and use a wide variety of brood rearing habitats, staying with the young to brood them and provide protection from predators (Powell 1993).

During migration and winter killdeer are associated with wetlands (beaches, mudflats) and open coastal fields (Degraaf and Rappole 1995).

Killdeer are generally insectivorous, feeding primarily on beetles and grasshoppers, as well as centipedes, spiders, worms, snails, and weed seeds (Johnsgard 1981, DeGraaf and Rudis 1986). Schardien and Jackson (1982) described a pond at which killdeer were routinely taking small frogs, some of which were confirmed as green tree frogs (Hyla cinerea). Weston (1963 in Schardien and Jackson 1982) documented killdeer feeding on dead minnows.

They are tolerant of human activity and will readily use suburban landscapes, airports, residential lawns, and roofs with a gravel surface (Wass 1974, Johnsgard 1981, Ankney 1985, DeGraaf and Rappole 1995).

Since killdeer may be found throughout the study area, habitats were identified by use of occurrence data in the coastal region, supplemented by landcover information (see table, below), and by landcover alone in the interior.

Inland - (reproduction): although the literature and environmental information obtained during sightings did not indicate any minimum patch size for nesting, a Maine survey (Pierce and Melvin 1991) of 37 grasslands only found killdeer at sites as small as 0.3 ha. Therefore, interior grasslands, cultivated land, and bare ground of this size and larger all were regarded as suitable reproductive habitat, and scored as indicated in the table.

NWI Designations
(wetlands only)
Cover Types Cover Suitability
(0 - 1 scale)
Upland deciduous forest
Upland coniferous forest
Upland mixed forest
Grassland 1.0*
Upland scrub/shrub
Cultivated 0.5*
Bare ground 1.0*
PEM, L2EM Lake/pond, emergent vegetation
PFOcon Palustrine forest, conifer
PFOdec Palustrine forest, deciduous
PSSdec Palustrine scrub shrub, deciduous
PSScon Palustrine scrub shrub, conifer
PAB, L2AB Lake/pond, aquatic vegetation
L1UB, PUB Lake/pond, unconsolidated bottom
L2US Lake, unconsolidated shore
L2RS Lake, rocky shore
R1UB Riverine subtidal unconsolidated
Rper Riverine perennial
E1AB Estuarine subtidal vegetated
E1UB Estuarine subtidal unconsolidated bottom
E2AB Estuarine intertidal algae
E2EM Estuarine intertidal emergent
E2RS, R1RS Estuarine, Riverine tidal river rocky shore
E2SS Estuarine intertidal shrub
E2US, R1US Estuarine, Riverine tidal unconsolidated shore 1.0
M1AB Marine subtidal vegetated
M1UB Marine subtidal unconsolidated bottom
M2AB Marine intertidal algae
M2RS Marine intertidal rocky shore
M2US Marine intertidal unconsolidated shore 1.0
NOTES * Reproductive habitats

Coastal - migration and wintering habitat: this component of the model also utilized relative abundance information from a Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) shorebird coverage, and the Manomet Bird Observatory's International Shorebird Survey (ISS) database for Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The ISS data specified the observation locations only to the nearest minute, so all suitable cover types (see table, below) within a 1 km radius of those points were regarded as having the level of use indicated at the observation point.

This occurrence information was used to select and rank the general localities used by the species. Optimal areas, with killdeer counts of 5 or more birds and suitable depth and substrates, were scored 1.0. Suitable areas otherwise known to be used by killdeer were scored 0.5. Areas having suitable depth and substrate but without observed use by killdeer were re-scored 0.2.

The model combined the nesting and wintering/migration components as the maximum from either source.

Model Testing: The killdeer occurrences along Breeding Bird Survey routes throughout the study area were used to test the habitat map. We compared the presence of habitat near a random set of 797 upland points to that for Breeding Bird Survey stops at which killdeer were observed in 1990, 1997 or 1998. Of the 130 sites with birds, 123 had mapped habitat, while 375 sites out of the 797 randomly distributed sites had habitat. The Chi-square was highly significant, indicating that the overall model does indicate localities useful to killdeer.

Ankney, C.D. 1985. Habitat selection by roof-nesting killdeer. Journal of Field Ornithology 56(3):284-286.

DeGraaf, R.M. and D.D. Rudis. 1986. New England Wildlife: habitat, natural history, and distribution. General Technical Report. NE-108. Broomall, PA: USDA/USFS. 491p.

DeGraaf, R.M. and J.H. Rappole. 1995. Neotropical Migratory Birds: Natural History, Distribution and Population Change. Comstock Publishing Associates, Ithaca, NY. 676 pp.

Hayman, P., J. Marchant and T. Prater. 1986. Shorebirds: an identification guide to the waders of the world. Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, MA. 412 pp.

Johnsgard, P.A. 1981. The Plovers, Sandpipers and Snipes of the World. University of Nebraska Press. Lincoln, NE.  493 pp.

Mace, T.R. 1978. Killdeer breeding densities. Wilson Bulletin 90(3):442-443.

Nol, E. and A .Lambert. 1984. Comparison of killdeers, Charadrius vociferus, breeding in mainland and peninsular sites in southern Ontario. Canadian Field-Naturalist 98(1):7-11.

Pierce, S.P. and S.M. Melvin. 1991. Assessment of barrens/grassland birds and habitats in Maine. Report to Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Bangor, ME. 12 p.

Powell, A.N. 1993. Brood rearing and chick behavior in killdeer Charadrius vociferus and piping plovers C. melodus. Wader Study Group Bulletin 71:15-16.

Schardien, B.J. and J.A. Jackson. 1982. Killdeers feeding on frogs. The Wilson Bulletin 94(1):85-87.

Wass, M.L. 1974. Killdeer nesting on graveled roofs. American Birds 28(6):983-984.