A practical guide to bird watching in Sonoma County, California

(Unless otherwise indicated, all phone numbers are in the 707 area code)


Common all year, but more abundant in the winter months. Birds present from around April to the middle September are likely to be permanent residents. Migrants swell the local population in the winter. Seen both at the coast and inland. Often noted at the edges of farm and sewer ponds and small lakes and in other habitats with water nearby, but not uncommon in plowed agricultural fields, on golf courses, or in school playing fields and at other suburban locations, or along roadsides or on construction sites. Although fairly skittish on close approach, commonly present near human activity. Nests annually at Emerisa Gardens (a large wholesale nursery), near Sebastopol, where I've seen adults doing distraction displays (feigning a wing injury) near nests. Often heard before it's seen. Says its name in a loud, plaintive tone that can carry great distances, although our local birds seem to mostly leave off the first syllable, simply saying "Deeee-er!" Also says Dee-dee-dee! Will sometimes call at night. Nests throughout the county, except in the most heavily wooded areas and in the mountainous areas.

The Killdeer is a plover, and it resembles several other plovers, but is distinguished by its comparatively large size, double black breast band and, at close range, its bright orange orbital ring. Brownish upper parts, white below in all plumages. Bill black. Legs pinkish. Sexes similar but females show less black in the face, paler orbital ring. In flight and during distraction display, the orange rump becomes visible. White longitudinal stripe on wing also conspicuous in flight. Tail longer than in any other similar-looking plover. Killdeer chicks briefly have only a single breast band. The somewhat similar-looking Semipalmated Plover (Charadrius semipalmatus) also has a single black breast band, but it's a much smaller, plumper bird with a shorter tail and bill and shorter legs. Semipalmated plover occasionally uses inland water bodies but is much more commonly encountered at the coast. 

Further reading:

Bolander and Parmeter, Birds of Sonoma County California, rev. ed., 2000, p. 50

Brinkley, National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2007, p. 211

Burridge, ed., Sonoma County Breeding Bird Atlas, 1995, p. 66

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 5th ed., 2006, p. 158

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 6th ed., 2011, pg. 166

Ehrlich, Dobkin, and Wheye, The Birder's Handbook, paperback edition, 1988, p. 114

Dunne, Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion, 2006, p. 201-202

Fix and Bezener, Birds of Northern California, 2000, p. 139

Floyd, Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 2008, p. 146

Kaufman, Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2000, p. 166

Kaufman, Field Guide to Advanced Birding, 2011, pp. 210-241 (general notes on shorebird ID), pp. 138-139

Lukas, Bay Area Birds: From Sonoma County to Monterey Bay, 2012, pp. 93-94

O’Brien, Crossley, and Karlson, The Shorebird Guide, 2006, pp. 4, 30, 58-61, 338-340

Parmeter and Wight, Birds of Sonoma County California, Update (2000-2010), 2012, p. 27

Paulson, Shorebirds of North America: The Photographic Guide, 2005, pp. 73-75

Peterson, Birds of Eastern and Central North America, 5th ed., 2002, pp. 134, 136

Peterson, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America, 4th ed., 2010, p. 132

Peterson, Western Birds, 3rd ed., 1990,  p. 126

Sibley, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America,1st ed., 2003, p. 146

Stokes, Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 1st ed., 2010, p. 217

Vuilleumier, American Museum of Natural History, Birds of North America: Western Region, 2011, p. 135

Voice: Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds--Killdeer



© Colin Talcroft, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013

Unless noted, all photos by the author. If you would like to use one of my images, please ask for permission for non-commercial use with proper credit or commercial use with proper compensation.


Killdeer, Imagery Estate Winery, Kenwood, December 30, 2010

Killdeer are usually found near water, but may just as well be found in grassy areas

Killdeer, Ellis Creek Water Recycling Facility, Petaluma, April 18, 2013

Killdeer (female), Ellis Creek Water Recycling Facility, Petaluma, April 18, 2013

An excellent view of the double breast band


Charadrius vociferus

1990-2013 Sonoma County data. Graph provided by eBird (www.ebird.org), generated July 15, 2013

EBird reported occurrence in Sonoma County