Flying Creature Mystery

Killdeer in flight

The white color under the wings was one of the clues that helped solve the Flying Creature Mystery. Many thanks to Tom Clifton who allowed me to use his killdeer in flight photo.

I recently had to solve a flying creature mystery. It all began a few weeks
ago at a Friday night football game. I heard distinct deet-deet-deet sounds coming from behind the stadium bleachers. It looked like several bats were
circling between the floodlights that illuminated the grassy practice field. I
assumed the “bats” were dining on the insects that were attracted to the lights. The following week, the flying creatures were there again so I got a closer look. That’s when I noticed several clues that led me to believe they were birds, not bats:

  • I had never seen bats with white undersides before.
  • They were a little larger than the bats native to this area.
  • They flew in a more circular, back-and-forth manner than bats.
  • Their deet cry was much louder than the sound of a bat.

I was pretty sure they were some kind of bird, but my confidence in this
conclusion soon waned. As I was watching an evening soccer practice a few days
later, the mysterious flying creatures were back. They were deet-deet-deeting
over the grass field and swooping down on the soccer players who were not happy to have them join their team. Everyone present thought they were bats that were flying around feeding on insects, so I became more perplexed. Are they bats or not? Several days later, the flying creature mystery was finally solved. I was at another Friday night football game, in another town, and heard the telltale deet-deet-deeting again. I glanced around and saw the creatures circling over the adjacent baseball field. Then, surprisingly, I saw two of them land in a large puddle of water on the ground. Bats don’t wade! They had to be birds. Later that night, my husband confirmed that they weren’t bats, they were killdeer. Now that I’ve had the time to read about killdeer, it all makes sense.

  • Killdeer like grassy areas. The killdeer I saw were never near the artificial turf field, only natural grass. They also may have been attracted to the baseball infield.
  • When they are upset (like when players are using their field) they circle around and sound their deet alarm.
  • They like water because they are a type of shore bird.
  • They tend to be active in the evenings.
  •  Killdeer are white under their wings (see photo courtesy of Tom Clifton).

A good source of information about killdeer is the All-Birds website which
also includes a link so you can hear the deet-deet-deet sound. They weren’t
bats, they were killdeer. As it turns out, what I thought was a flying creature
mystery had actually been a bird identification problem. Comments?


11 responses to “Flying Creature Mystery

  1. That deed-deed-deed is a useful alarm for not just killdeer, but any other bird around. I was recently shooting sandpipers and turnstones and there were a couple of killdeer around. As I got close, the deed-deed-deed went up and all of the birds skittish. They seem to provide the early alarm.

  2. So is it rare for killdeer to be in New Jersey? From what I read on the link, they don’t normally reside in your neck of the woods. Great story and good sleuthing.

    And wow, Tom Clifton’s website. Marvelous is an understatement!

  3. So glad you solved your flying creature mystery. Fascinating! I’ve seen Killdeer scampering along the Lake Michigan shoreline before. Their broken-wing act is really quite something to view. Wonderful post!

  4. Pingback: Ramblings on Bats, Bat Houses and White-Nose Syndrome | Nature in the Burbs

  5. just saw many many killdeer on a base ball field by a canal swooping down on us… clearly not wanting us there but made it alive!

  6. I very often hear their normal flight calls here in the Thousand Islands region of NY on fully moonlit nights in the springtime (like tonight). Sometimes, they can be so loud, I can even hear them from inside my house with all the windows closed!

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