Mountain Plover

Mountain Plover

Kingdom
Phylum
Class
Family
Genus
SPECIES
Charadrius montanus
Population size
15-20 thou
Life Span
10 yrs
WEIGHT
105 g
LENGTH
20-24 cm
WINGSPAN
44.5-49.5 cm

The Mountain plover is a medium-sized ground bird. Unlike most plovers, it is usually not found near bodies of water or even on wet soil; it prefers dry habitat with short grass and bare ground. Both the male and the female in this species are of the same size. The upperparts are sandy brown and the underparts and face are whitish. There are black feathers on the forecrown and a black stripe from each eye to the bill (the stripe is brown and may be indistinct in winter); otherwise, the plumage is plain.

Distribution

Mountain plovers breed in North America from extreme southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan to northern New Mexico and the Texas panhandle, as well as an isolated site in the Davis Mountains of West Texas. Most of the birds winter in the San Joaquin and Imperial Valleys in California. Their winter range also extends along the U.S.-Mexican border, more extensively on the Mexican side. Mountain plovers can be found in high plains, grasslands, shortgrass prairie, grassy semidesert, xeric scrub, and in agricultural fields.

Mountain Plover habitat map

Geography

Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

Mountain plovers are gregarious birds and often spend time in loose flocks, especially in winter. They forage by day in a typical for plovers run-and-stop method. The birds move forward quickly, then stop and scan the area, prob the soil with their bill and then repeat the process. They often associate with livestock, which attract and stir up insects. Around late July, Mountain plovers leave their breeding range for a period of post-breeding wandering around the southern Great Plains. Little is known about their movements at this time, although they are regularly seen around Walsh, Colorado, and on sod farms in central New Mexico. By early November, most move southward and westward to their wintering grounds. Mountain plovers communicate with the help of variable calls, often low-pitched trilled or gurgling whistles. In courtship, they are known to make a sound much like a far-off cow mooing.

Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

Mountain plovers are carnivores (insectivores). They feed mainly on various insects and will also take scorpions, centipedes, and occasionally seeds.

Mating Habits

MATING BEHAVIOR
REPRODUCTION SEASON
April to late July/early August
INCUBATION PERIOD
28-31 days
INDEPENDENT AGE
33-36 days
BABY NAME
chick
BABY CARRYING
3 eggs

Mountain plovers are serially monogamous and usually form pair bonds that last only during one breeding season. However, females sometimes may mate with several males and exhibit polyandrous behavior. During mating, the male will set territory and perform displays to attract a female. Mountain plovers nest on bare ground in early spring (April in northern Colorado). The nesting territory must have a bare round with short, sparse vegetation. The breeding season usually extends over the summer months and ends sometime around late July or early August. Females lay multiple clutches of eggs with 3 eggs to a clutch; the eggs are off-white with blackish spots. Females leave their first clutch to be incubated and tended to by the male and then lay a second clutch, which she tends to herself. Females that mate with several males have several male tended nests in one breeding season. If the eggs survive various dangers, especially such predators as coyotes, snakes, and swift foxes, they hatch in 28 to 31 days, and the hatchlings leave the nest within a few hours. In the next 2 or 3 days, the family usually moves 1-2 kilometers (0.6-1 miles) from the nest site to a good feeding area, often near a water tank for livestock. The chicks usually fledge and are able to fly well when they are 33 to 36 days old.

Population

Population threats

The population of Mountain plovers is in decline because of cultivation, urbanization, and over-grazing of their living space. Other important threats include hunting, human disturbances, mining activities, and pollution.

Population number

According to the IUCN Red List, the total population size of the Mountain plover is around 15,000-20,000 individuals, roughly equivalent to 10,000-14,000 mature individuals. Currently, this species is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on The IUCN Red List and its numbers today are decreasing.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • The word plover came from a Latin 'pluvia' which means 'rain'. In Medieval England, some migratory birds became known as plovers because they returned to their breeding grounds each spring with rain.
  • In 1832 American naturalist John Kirk Townsend spotted a species of an unknown bird near the Rocky Mountains and assumed that all these birds live in mountains. In fact, plovers come back each spring to their breeding grounds, and so the wrong name Mountain plover was given to the species.
  • Mountain plovers prefer to share their breeding grounds with bison and black tailed prairie dogs because these animals are grazers and keep vegetation short. Plovers like to nest among prairie dog colonies because the foraging and burrowing that these animals do expose even more bare soil which creates an ideal habitat for plover nest sites. It is believed that plovers like to nest on bare soil because they blend into the land hiding them from birds that may prey on them and the short vegetation allows them to easily detect predators on the ground. It is also believed it is easier for them to spot insects to eat.
  • During the mating season, female Mountain plovers often visit the territories of several males before they select a suitable partner.
  • In order to attract a female, male Mountain plovers try hard performing various courtship displays. They bow, fan their tail, lower the head, and may also perform elegant 'butterfly' and 'falling leaf' displays.

References

1. Mountain Plover on Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mountain_plover
2. Mountain Plover on The IUCN Red List site - https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/22693876/131931306

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