Standing tall among the diminutive Sandpipers and Sanderlings, the Semipalmated Plover is a fascinating bird to watch as it forages for crustaceans and insects in the receding surf. Its slightly taller height and black-tipped orange beak are unique among shorebirds as is its coloring. Plus with its single black neck band and orange legs, the bird is distinctive and fun to watch in flocks or alone. The Semipalmated Plovers venture inland from the oceans, so they can be spotted along rivers and on grassy plains.
All plovers have distinctive calls, which make them identifiable, if you have your bird call app ready. The call is most often used in flight and in nesting phases. The male or female bird who is watching over and protecting the grass covered nest wants to distract any intruder. The bird will fly away from the nest, call and spread its wing, and feign an injury. The distraction is intended to keep the predator away from the nest and eggs or chicks. Many birds have this protective instinct, but few are as loud or as animated as the plovers.
Killdeer feigning an injured wing to distract predators from nest
The Piping Plover is similar to the Semipalmated Plover but it is shorter, has a shorter beak and is more understated and muted in coloring. It seems that the bird was named for its call, which sounds like “Pipe-Pipe-Pipe,” the song it makes when it’s in danger.
One plover, the Spur-Winged Plover, which is ubiquitous in New Zealand, goes one better: it has sharp spurs on its wing bones, which it uses to lance its predators, if they get too close…not kidding. They will even dive bomb a predator and do serious damage with those spurs rather than have their offspring harmed. Lethal stuff.
Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus)
As its Latin name indicates (Chadarius vociferous), the Killdeer is one of the louder birds in the animal world. However, the vociferousness is not necessarily because of the volume of sound, but the pitch of the call, which is so piercing a single bird is easy to identify from many football fields away. They are found in parking lots, grassy fields, as well as football fields. The Killdeer is a fun plover to locate, first by sound of its call, and then by sight.
Found all over North America, the Killdeer has adapted remarkably well to urban environments, though, it is getting harder and harder for the plovers to raise their young undisturbed by city dwellers, which will continue to threaten the species.
The facial markings including the orange eye ring and white and black bands are easy to see without binoculars, so this species is one of the easiest plovers to identify.
Legs Like a Kill-Dee
The Killdeer has a particular place in my wife’s family because her Grandmother, Mary Rosenblath LaPorte. For much of her life she was kidded about her stick-like legs, which her father, Michael Rosenblath said resembled the legs of a Killdeer.
While many birdwatchers are more attracted to beautiful plumage, the double neck rings, and the bright eye rings of this distinctive plover, Michael Rosenblath was not exactly complementary of his daughter.
Long on opinions and short on charm, Michael Rosenblath thought that his daughter had spindly legs: no calves, no thighs, and a pair of knobby knees. He would carp, “Mary, you have legs like a Kill-Dee!” So much for building a young girl’s confidence when talking about her gams!
Mary & Milton LaPorte (Mary covering her “like a kill-dee” legs)
Killdeer in flight by J. R. Compton (c) 2007
There are some other beautiful plovers from Egypt and Alaska and Siberia, two that are particularly attractive are the Golden Plover the Black-Bellied Plover, which, except for the yellowish hue in the Golden Plover, are hard to distinguish from each other.