Living Sanibel: Killdeer
Perhaps most famous for its loud, familiar call, killdeeahdeedee, the killdeer’s scientific name aptly describes its behavior: vociferous, meaning loud and vocal. Often found in pastures and open fields, the killdeer is a fairly large plover that frequents uplands, as well as beaches. Larger than the Wilson’s plover, the killdeer is most easily recognized by its double-banded neck and its distinctive call.
One of the most successful of all plovers, the killdeer is an example of an animal that not only has learned to adapt to the ways of man, but also flourishes in any number of urban or suburban environments. It nests in baseball fields, gravel rooftops, railroad yards, and scores of similarly unlikely locations. Because of this adaptation, the killdeer is prone to pesticide poisoning, and traffic and window collisions, among a host of other metropolitan dangers. Despite some losses, the killdeer population continues to expand its range, reaching all the way from the northern fringe of Chile to British Columbia.
The killdeer’s diet consists almost entirely of insects, but it will also take small crustaceans and an occasional seed. It is a solitary nester and will feign a broken wing if you approach too near to its nesting locale. Its tiny chicks rely completely on camouflage to survive to adulthood.
The distinctive loud and rattling call of the belted kingfisher generally announces its arrival or departure from a roosting site. A plunge diver that often hovers in the air studying its potential meal before diving, the kingfisher prefers freshwater to saltwater environments. This is a bird that has taken advantage of human activities and can readily be found along highways where drainage swales and ponds have been dredged. The kingfisher is often spotted sitting on a telephone pole or power line over these small bodies of water waiting for an errant minnow or tadpole to get close to the surface.
The belted kingfisher is one of only a handful of avian species in which the female is more brightly colored than the male. There are 93 different species of kingfishers worldwide, including the famous Australian kingfisher, the kookaburra. The best places to find these birds locally are around inland lakes or along the banks of the rivers and streams.
The kingfisher lives year round throughout most of the United States, but some do migrate south during the winter months. Its nests are robbed by grackles, various snakes, and tree-climbing mammals, while the adult is taken by alligators and falcons. The kingfisher is unusual in that, like the cliff swallow, it digs tunnels and makes cavities in riverbanks where it builds its nests and raises its offspring. It is adapting well to human-designed changes in the landscape, and despite some regional losses, it is fundamentally successful.
This is an excerpt from The Living Gulf Coast – A Nature Guide to Southwest Florida by Charles Sobczak. The book is available at all the Island bookstores, Baileys, Jerry’s and your favorite online sites.