Beaverton Bird Watch: Nom De Plume

By Anne Harris03 Killdeer Images

Remember the term “onomatopoeia” from your English classes of yore? It’s the name given to a word that sounds like the thing it describes. Rude people slurp and the ruder ones burp. Cats say meow and dogs say bow-wow. But birds rule the repartee roost: They peep and cheep, twitter and tweet, hoot and whoop, coo and cuckoo and even cock-a-doodle-doo. But there’s one bird that is actually named for the sound of its call: the killdeer (Charadrius vociferus).

The killdeer is a kind of plover, so it’s technically a shorebird, but it lives in open fields in towns like ours, not often near the ocean. With a scientific name like vociferus and a common name like killdeer, you’d think this bird was about six feet tall and equipped with teeth, but this brown-and-white Beaverton native is just 11 inches long and eats bugs.

Its call is unmistakable: kill deeah, deee, and dee ahy, delivered in a high, rapid trill when nervous, like when our dog approaches its nearly invisible, shallow nest amid the kind of pebbles mixed with hay that now cover the gas line repair sites along Murray Hill Park.

We haven’t seen it with our own eyes yet, but killdeers are known to protecting their young from predators by feigning a broken wing, thus inviting their own death.

Killers? Hardly.

Anne Harris is a local author who finds watching her avian neighbors quite fascinating as they loudly inhabit a mixed stand of conifers and broadleaf trees behind her home. “Provide food and they will come,” is what she discovered, and has been avidly studying their diverse habits ever since.