Plovers: Family Charadriidae
|Plovers: Family Charadriidae
Types of Birds
Plovers (Family Charadrius), small to medium sized shorebirds, inhabit coastal and inland waterways around North America.
Most feed on local invertebrate populations, however a few species are known to include some berries and seeds in their diet.
Worldwide the family consists of some sixty-six different species which fit into ten different genera.
The American Birding Association counts seventeen species divided into three genera (Charadrius, Pluvialis and Vanellu) as native, although the U.S. range of all but a few species is very limited.
Because of their continental range, perhaps the Killdeers and Semipalmated Plovers best represent the North American plover population.
The Killdeer (Charadrius vociferous), top picture, comes close to breaking the plover mold by living in habitats outside of traditional plover coastal or inland shoreline habitats.
The two bands on the breast provide good field identification marks for differentiating them from other plovers. Their diet consists mostly of insects, which makes them welcome on farmlands across the country.
The single black breast band along with the orange and black bill help to identify the semipalmated plover (Charadrius semipalmatus), a small shorebird of the West, Gulf and East Coasts.
Like Killdeers, Semipalmated plovers adapt to multiple environments, helping them maintain a stable population.
During migration they rest at both salt and freshwater locations. They breed in a variety of coastal setting in the Arctic North.
The Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus), picture three, a pip of a plover with a small body, small beak and flashy orange legs, looks even more attractive during the summer when a dark stripe appears above the eyes and across the chest.
Once a quintessential shorebird of the Atlantic and Gulf Coast winter seasons, Piping Plover populations decreased in the Post WW II era, due largely to human encroachment on their breeding territory. By 1986 the population levels decreased to the point of requiring protection under the Endangered Species Act.
Three different breeding populations, the Great Lakes, the Northern Great Plains Population and the Atlantic Coast, receive protection, with the Great Lakes population listed as endangered and the remaining two populations listed as threatened.
Wilson's plover (Charadrius wilsonia) inhabits the Atlantic and Gulf coastal areas of the Southeast.
Picture four highlights the bird's thick bill (used for catching small crustaceans) and beige legs. It says little about the bird's size.
Standing about seven inches in height, Wilson's Plovers grow a bit taller than the smallest of the plovers such as the Piping Plover, and a bit shorter than the tallest of the plovers such as the Golden Plover.
Reliable population estimates are lacking, although experts hypothesize a declining aggregate population trend. Maryland and Virgina list them as locally endangered, and Audubon placed them on the watch list.
Their open area nesting practices contribute to their declining numbers. The amount of open beach space within their historical range continues to shrink. On remaining beach areas, their nesting can be disturbed by human and pet encroachment as well as dealing with egg predation by resident mammals and birds.
Concerns about population levels mean that Snowy, Piping and Mountain Plovers grab a good deal of media attention. Both the Snowy Plover and Piping Plover are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. In the past decade, the Mountain Plover just missed being listed, although they are considered a species of concern in many states that host them.
Mountain plovers (Charadrius montanus) inhabit North American grassland areas during summer breeding and winter nonbreeding seasons.
The breeding range extends from the high plains grasslands of the Rocky Mountains into the Great Plains, while the wintering range extends from the inland valleys of Central and Southern California, with smaller winter populations present in Southern Arizona and South Texas.
Twice (1999 and 2002) the United States Fish and Wildlife Service considered listing the Mountain Plover as a threatened species because of general population declines and a loss of nesting habitat, especially in the Great Plains region.
Ultimately the federal listing was rescinded, although the relevant states list it as a species of concern, along with other similar titles. The listings mean that local populations continue to be monitored.
Current population estimates suggest that aggregate population has somewhat stabilized at roughly the 10,000 mark.
Two distinct Snowy Plover species, the Western Snowy Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus nivosus) and the Cuban snowy plover (Charadrius alexandrinus tenuirostris) live and breed in North America.
Additionally, two distinct (inland and coastal) Western Snowy Plover populations have been identified.
Inland Western Snowy Plover species breed along the beds of large lakes while coastal populations breed on open beach areas along the entire Pacific Coast, with neither population inclined to inter-territorial breeding behavior.
In 1993 the Pacific coast population was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, with loss of open beach nesting areas due to both human encroachment and the introduction of beachgrass in their habitat, serving as the impetus for their population decline.
Since that time, a recovery plan put in place provides guidelines and goals to promote state and local breeding programs.
While still threatened, small population increases continue to be recorded. The vast majority of the coastal plover population (estimated at approximately 2,600 birds, and up from less than 1,500 individuals), breed along the coast of California. Further north, recent statistics from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife suggest their coastal populations have increased from 50 to the 200 range between 1990 and 2009.
Onto the Pluvialis genus, the black chin and belly along with the checkered back feathers of the Black-bellied Plover (Pluvialis squatarola) in breeding plumage presents an eye catching image for even the least enthusiastic of bird enthusiasts.
They are fairly large plovers that nest in the Arctic and winter along both coasts.
Lack of competition in their breeding grounds contributes to a stable population.
The picture shows an individual in non-breeding plumage.
© 2004-2011 Patricia A. Michaels