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Sandpiper vs. Killdeer — What's the Difference?

By Tayyaba Rehman — Updated on July 19, 2023
Sandpipers are a large family of shorebirds with many species, known for their probing bills, while Killdeers are a specific type of plover, recognized by their double black breast bands and loud calls.
Sandpiper vs. Killdeer — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Sandpiper and Killdeer


Key Differences

Sandpipers are a large family of birds, Scolopacidae, comprising numerous species, characterized by their long, thin bills they use to probe into mud or sand for food. On the other hand, Killdeers belong to the plover family Charadriidae and specifically are a single species, Charadrius vociferus, which have shorter bills than sandpipers.
Sandpipers are distributed broadly across the globe, inhabiting diverse habitats from arctic regions to tropical zones. Killdeers have a more specific range, primarily found in the Americas.
Sandpipers are known for their "peck and run" feeding pattern, rapidly jabbing their bills into sand or mud to catch invertebrates. Killdeers are less dependent on aquatic habitats, often feeding on insects, worms, and other small animals in fields and lawns, sometimes displaying a unique "broken-wing" act to lure predators away from their nests.
Sandpipers typically show a wide variation in plumage, depending on the species, often exhibiting cryptic brown, gray, or white colorations. Killdeers, in contrast, have a more distinctive appearance with two black chest bands, a white belly, and a brown back, making them easily recognizable.

Comparison Chart


Scolopacidae (Sandpiper)
Charadriidae (Plover)


Varies widely, but often coastal areas, tundra, forests, and fields
Fields, meadows, and shorelines, often far from water


Typically 15-30 cm (6-12 inches) depending on species
Typically 23-27 cm (9-11 inches)


Varies, usually between 40-50 cm (16-20 inches)
Usually 45-47 cm (18-19 inches)


Typically brown, grey, or white. Long, thin bills for probing for food
Brown, black, and white with a distinctive double black neckband, long, pointed wings, and a short dark bill


Varies by species; often soft whistles or trills
A loud, piercing "kill-deer" or "tee-dee-dee"


Usually ground nesters; nests are typically simple scrapes or depressions
Ground nesters; nests are simple scrapes, often in gravel or pebbles

Number of eggs per clutch

Typically 4 eggs
Usually 4-6 eggs

Migration pattern

Many species are long-distance migrants
Partial migrant, with northern populations usually moving south for winter


Insects, crustaceans, mollusks, sometimes seeds or plant material
Insects, worms, snails, crustaceans, and small fish

Unique behavior

Many species probe into mud or sand with their bills to find food
Known for its "broken-wing" act to lure predators away from its nest

Compare with Definitions


Sandpipers are a large family, Scolopacidae, of waders or shorebirds. They include many species called sandpipers, as well as those called by names such as curlew and snipe.


A New World plover (Charadrius vociferus) that has a distinctive noisy cry and two black bands across its breast.


A type of small to medium-sized bird in the family Scolopacidae, known for their long bills and legs, and propensity to inhabit shorelines.
The Common Sandpiper has a distinctive white wing-bar that shows in flight.


The killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) is a large plover found in the Americas. It was described and given its current scientific name in 1758 by Carl Linnaeus in the 10th edition of his Systema Naturae.


Birds often identified by their distinctive calls and flight patterns.
The Wood Sandpiper is identifiable by its loud, trilling call.


A migratory bird found across North and South America, with adaptations to both terrestrial and wetland habitats.
Visiting the marshlands, we spotted a Killdeer foraging for insects and crustaceans at the water's edge.


Any species of wading birds that are characterized by their probing for food in mud or sand.
The Dunlin sandpiper uses its long, slightly curved bill to probe for insects, worms, and shellfish.


American plover of inland waters and fields having a distinctive cry.


A group of birds that are migratory in nature, traveling long distances from breeding to non-breeding grounds.
The tiny Semipalmated Sandpiper travels thousands of miles from its Arctic breeding grounds to South America every year.


A medium-sized plover native to the Americas, recognized by its double black neck rings and distinctive kill-dee call.
While hiking, she was startled by the shrill call of a Killdeer fleeing from a nearby bush.


Any of various small shorebirds of the family Scolopacidae, usually having a long straight sensitive bill used to pick up insects, worms, and soft mollusks in mud and sand.


A bird known for its large, round, dark eyes and long, pointed tail feathers, displaying a unique orange rump in flight.
The Killdeer took off swiftly, revealing its bright orange rump, a flash of color against the clear sky.


Any one of numerous species of small limicoline game birds belonging to Tringa, Actodromas, Ereunetes, and various allied genera of the family Tringidæ.


A North American plover (Charadrius vociferus) with a distinctive cry and territorial behavior that includes feigning injury to distract interlopers from the nest.


Any of numerous usually small wading birds having a slender bill and piping call; closely related to the plovers.


A type of bird that employs a 'broken-wing' act to distract predators from its nests.
When a fox approached, the Killdeer performed a dramatic broken-wing act to lead it away from her young.


Any of various small wading birds of the family Scolopacidae.


An ornithological species, Charadrius vociferus, that nests in open ground, often on gravel.
He almost stepped on a Killdeer's nest camouflaged among the gravel on the path.


A small lamprey eel; the pride.


Birds that display unique 'bobbing' behavior, often seen teetering or nodding their bodies while standing or walking.
The Spotted Sandpiper is known for its unique teetering motion, even when it's not moving.

Common Curiosities

Are killdeer and sandpiper the same?

No, killdeer and sandpipers are not the same. While both belong to the Charadriiformes order, they are different species. Killdeer is a type of plover under the Charadrius genus, while sandpipers belong to the Scolopacidae family.

What happens to killdeer eggs after they hatch?

After hatching, Killdeer chicks are precocial - they can leave the nest within a day, under the watchful eyes of their parents. The parents continue to care for and protect the chicks until they can fly, which usually occurs about 25 days after hatching.

What color is Killdeer?

Killdeer have a brown or tan back and wings, a white belly, and a white face with a black stripe across the eyes and above the forehead. They also have two distinctive black bands around their neck and chest.

Why is it called killdeer?

The name "killdeer" comes from the distinctive call of this bird, which sounds like "kill-dee." The name is an example of onomatopoeia, where the name of an animal or thing is derived from the sound it makes.

What bird is like a sandpiper?

Birds similar to sandpipers are typically shorebirds, which include species like the curlew, snipe, dunlin, and godwit. These birds share similar characteristics, such as long legs and bills, and inhabit similar environments.

What is another name for sandpiper?

Sandpipers don't have widely used alternative names, but there are various species within the sandpiper family, such as the curlew, dunlin, snipe, and godwit.

What bird is called a Killdeer?

The bird called a Killdeer is a medium-sized plover. Its scientific name is Charadrius vociferus, and it is known for its distinctive 'kill-deer' call.

What kind of animal is sandpiper?

The sandpiper is a bird, specifically a type of shorebird, found predominantly in wetlands and along coastlines. They belong to the family Scolopacidae in the order Charadriiformes.

What is the Sandpiper symbol?

In different cultures, the sandpiper is seen as a symbol of peace, happiness, and love due to its peaceful nature and gentle habits. In Christianity, it is sometimes represented as a symbol of Christ's humility and sacrifice.

What is the difference between a plover and a sandpiper?

The main differences between plovers and sandpipers relate to their physical features and habitats. Plovers, including the killdeer, usually have shorter bills and prefer drier habitats, while sandpipers have longer bills and are often found in wetter environments like marshes and mudflats.

Why is it called sandpiper?

The name "sandpiper" is derived from these birds' behavior, as they are often seen "piping" or chirping while they walk or run along the sand or mudflats, hence the name sandpiper.

What is special about sandpipers?

One special thing about sandpipers is their remarkable migration habits. Some species undertake incredibly long, often intercontinental, journeys. They are also known for their unique feeding techniques, using their sensitive bills to probe into the sand or mud to find invertebrates.

What is unique about the Killdeer?

The Killdeer is unique for its broken-wing act. When a predator is near their nest, they will pretend to have a broken wing to lure the predator away, then they fly away when the predator is a safe distance from the nest.

What is a synonym for Killdeer?

A synonym for Killdeer is Chattering Plover, referring to its distinctive and frequent call.

What is a sandpiper?

A sandpiper is a type of small to medium-sized bird in the family Scolopacidae. They are known for their long bodies, legs, and bills and are typically found in wet habitats like marshes, mudflats, and shorelines, where they feed on small invertebrates.

How do you identify a Killdeer?

Killdeer can be identified by their brown upper body, white underbelly, and two distinct black bands around the neck and chest. They also have a characteristic red eye-ring and their call, which sounds like "kill-dee."

What is a small sandpiper called?

Small sandpipers are often referred to as "peeps" or "stints." These terms usually apply to the smallest species of sandpipers, including the least sandpiper and the semipalmated sandpiper.

What is a Killdeer egg?

A Killdeer egg is oval-shaped with a slight point at one end and is noted for its large size relative to the bird. The shell is buff-colored and speckled with black or brown spots.

Is a Killdeer a wading bird?

Killdeer are not typically considered wading birds, although they are often found near water. They prefer drier habitats like fields, gravel pits, and even parking lots, where they forage for insects and other small prey.

What are Killdeer threats?

The main threats to killdeer include habitat loss due to urban development and agriculture, predation from animals like foxes, raccoons, and birds of prey, and human disturbance of their nesting sites.

Is a Killdeer an omnivore?

Yes, the Killdeer is an omnivore. It feeds on a variety of food items, including insects, earthworms, snails, spiders, and occasionally seeds and berries.

What are the predators of a Killdeer?

Common predators of Killdeer include foxes, raccoons, crows, gulls, and birds of prey. Predation can be particularly high on eggs and young chicks.

Where are Killdeer most common?

Killdeer are most common in North and South America. In North America, they can be found throughout the United States, much of Canada, and parts of Mexico. During the winter, they migrate to Central and South America.

Can you feed killdeer?

It's not recommended to feed killdeer or most wild birds, as human foods don't provide the nutrients they need and can cause health problems. Killdeer feed naturally on insects, worms, and other small invertebrates.

What is the difference between male and female killdeer?

Male and female Killdeer look very similar, both having the same distinctive black and white banding. However, during the breeding season, males may have brighter and more distinct markings. Males also perform a display during courtship, running, and calling to attract a mate.

How big are killdeer eggs?

Killdeer eggs are relatively large compared to the size of the bird. They are approximately 1.5 inches long and are light-colored with dark spots, providing camouflage against the ground.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Tayyaba Rehman
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.

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