- Minnesota Breeding Bird Distribution
- Breeding Habitat
- Population Abundance
- Literature Cited
A regular breeding resident and migrant, the Killdeer is occasionally observed during the winter months in southern Minnesota; most birds are late-fall migrants or early-spring migrants. The Killdeer was an abundant species during the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas (MNBBA).
Broadly distributed from eastern Alaska across Canada and throughout the entire United States, south to Mexico and the Caribbean. The Killdeer is a summer resident in the northern portion of its breeding range and a permanent resident in the south. Some of the highest breeding densities are found within the north-central United States and south throughout the Mississippi River valley (Figure 1).
Ranked as Moderate Concern by the U.S. Shorebird Conservation Plan Partnership and assigned a Continental Concern Score of 9/20 by Partners in Flight.
In Minnesota, the Killdeer is a short-distance migrant that winters along the Gulf Coast and in the southeastern United States.
Probes with its bill and pats the ground with its feet to feed on a smorgasbord of terrestrial and aquatic invertebrates and crustaceans.
A small depression in the ground, usually lined with pebbles, twigs, and other debris.
In Minnesota, the Killdeer has long been considered a common resident, breeding throughout the state. In his 1932 account of the species, Roberts wrote,
The Killdeer is too common and too well known to need more than a general notice. There is no place in the state, except in deep forests, where its loud and penetrating notes, kill-dee, kill-dee, cannot be heard.
Despite passing the species off as of no consequence, Roberts went on to describe the Killdeer’s habits and antics of feigning injury and misleading an intruder about the location of its well-camouflaged nest. Although he described the species’ nesting distribution as statewide, confirmed nesting records (nests with eggs) were limited to 8 counties, stretching from Dakota and Goodhue in the southeast through the central counties of Hennepin, Isanti, McLeod, and Sherburne; west to Grant; and north to Polk. Other evidence of breeding (nests or adults with young) were reported from Kittson, Lake of the Woods, and Marshall Counties.
Both Green and Janssen (1975) and Janssen (1987) considered the species common and widespread wherever suitable habitat was present. Janssen (1987) delineated 56 counties dispersed across all regions of the state where nesting had been documented since 1970. Hertzel and Janssen (1998) would later add an additional 11 counties to the list.
The Minnesota Biological Survey reported 799 breeding season locations throughout the state. Despite their wide distribution, records were sparse in the Paleozoic Plateau Section of southeastern Minnesota, in portions of the northern forest, in east-central Minnesota, and in the heavily cultivated landscapes of western Minnesota (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources 2016).
During the MNBBA, observers reported 4,190 Killdeer records in 49.5% (2,380/4,805) of the surveyed atlas blocks and in 66.8% (1,561/2,338) of the priority blocks. Breeding was confirmed in 12.9% (618/4,805) of the surveyed atlas blocks (Figures 2 and 3; Table 1). Although the species was found throughout the state, records were least abundant in northeastern and north-central counties. Regardless, the Killdeer was reported from all 87 of Minnesota’s counties and was confirmed nesting in 86 counties, 19 more than delineated by Hertzel and Janssen (1998). Brown County, along the Minnesota River in southwestern Minnesota, was the lone county without a confirmed nesting record during the atlas.
As broadly distributed as the Killdeer is outside of north-central and northeastern Minnesota, the core of the species’ range is clearly in the agricultural region of the state, according to a predicted distribution model that incorporated the Killdeer’s current distribution along with data on climate, habitat, landscape cover, and detectability (Figure 4). According to the model, breeding densities are predicted to gradually decrease through the Eastern Broadleaf Forest Province and decrease to nearly zero in Lake and Cook Counties. The one area of abundance in northern Minnesota is along the Iron Range in St. Louis and Itasca Counties. This predicted distribution is remarkably similar to the map of the Killdeer’s relative abundance in Minnesota generated from the federal Breeding Bird Survey (BBS), which places the highest density of breeding birds in southwestern Minnesota (Figure 1).
Nearly one hundred years after Roberts wrote his first account of the Killdeer’s status in Minnesota, it appears that little has changed. No doubt, as the northern forest landscape became more fragmented by urban, industrial, and small-scale agricultural development, the species was more frequently encountered in this region. Significant range expansions have also been documented across North America during the twentieth century, with birds expanding from interior breeding grounds into more coastal areas. Included are expansions northeast into Quebec, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland, south into the Florida peninsula, and northwest along the coast of British Columbia (Jackson and Jackson 2000). Some states and provinces where the species originally expanded are now witnessing a retraction in the Killdeer’s distribution. Ontario, Michigan, and Vermont, for example, each have documented a retraction from the northern regions of the state or province. These were believed to be partly due to abandonment and reforestation of marginal farmlands (Cadman et al. 2007; Chartier et al. 2013; Renfrew 2013).
*Note that the definition of confirmed nesting of a species is different for Breeding Bird Atlas projects, including the definition used by the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas, compared with a more restrictive definition used by the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union. For details see the Data Methods Section.