This species is in the order of the shorebirds, and inhabits lake shores and mudflats, but is also commonly found in prairie, grassland habitats far from water. The back is brown and the belly white, with white stripes on the head and two black bands on the neck and breast. The distinctive red eye ring is visible up close. They are about the size of a robin with longer legs. The name is derived from the primary call which is a loud, nasal, repetitive two-note song.

Killdeer. Photo by James Taulman.

These birds occur throughout the Great Plains, up into Canada, and the Midwest states, along the eastern seaboard and through the Southwest, including most of New Mexico. They run along the ground foraging for insects and other arthropods, also taking some seeds. Nests consist of a simple depression on the ground, often in rocky, exposed areas. The 3-5 speckled eggs are well camouflaged against the gravelly background and are easily missed when walking past. Both parents help incubate the eggs and may even wet the belly feathers to help keep them cool. Young are active soon after hatching (precocial) and feed themselves. Parents are protective of young and eggs and often perform a very conspicuous behavior to distract a potential predator away from the nest, fanning the tail, dragging a wing and flopping around on the ground while calling loudly. The adult will fly away if approached. In another more aggressive behavior, the adult may charge the predator.

The Audubon Society reports that the species is in a general decline, but because of the wide distribution and common occurrence through most of its range, it is listed as of least concern in terms of conservation.

James Taulman is a semi-retired research wildlife biologist, having worked with the U.S. Forest Service research branch and taught zoology, ecology, and other courses in several university positions. He is currently living in the East Mountains, and explores natural areas observing native wildlife and conducting independent research projects.