Precocial Chicks and the Killdeer

By Dave Hanks

The Killdeer gets its name from its call – “KILL-DEE, KILL-DEE”. It is a very well known species because of its broken wing display, which will lead a predator away from the nest and its chicks. Killdeer young are precocial and come out of the shell running. But, they need their parents for protection and guidance; even though they are closer to independence than altricial birds.

Ducks, geese, upland game birds, and wading birds have precocial young. The killdeer is a medium size plover and in the wading category. Some newly hatched birds (like Killdeer) will stay close to the nest while others get as far away as possible. All precocial chicks have well developed legs and can run. Their eyes are open and bright, and they respond to stimuli with a high degree of nervous development.

Their downy feathers will dry in two to three hours. Precocial baby birds can control their body temperature better than altricial young, but some do need brooding. Their big egg tooth and uncolored mouth lining do not result in the stimuli necessary to cause their parents to feed them. The colorful linings of altricial chicks are constantly stuffed with food from hard working Moms and Dads. Some precocial young do need parental help in finding food while others can do very well on their own.

The greater time in the egg naturally results in greater development at hatching. Newly hatched precocial chicks are about as well developed as Red-Winged Blackbird young are after 10 days in the nest. The period between hatching and flight is critical and different species require different time periods for wing development. The flightless phase in upland game birds is shorter than that required by water-related birds.

Baby Killdeer always come out running, and these adorable chicks can be found from Alaska to Newfoundland and to the south in the lower 48.

(A baby Killdeer – looking like a miniature adult)