Mountain Plover

The Mountain Plover is a medium-sized ground bird in the plover family. Unlike its name suggests, this bird lives on level land and unlike most plovers, it prefers it prefers dry habitat with short grass or bare ground.

The Mountain Plover breeds in the high plains of North America from extreme southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan to northern New Mexico and the Texas panhandle. They also prefer an isolated site in the Davis Mountains of West Texas. The majority of the population (about 85 percent) spends its winters in the San Joaquin and Imperial Valleys of California. Its winter range also extends along the U.S.-Mexican border, more extensively on the Mexican side.

The Mountain Plover is 8-9.5 inches (20-24 cm) long and weighs about 3.7 ounces (105 grams). It is typical of Charadrius plovers, except that unlike most it has no band across the breast. The upperparts are sandy brown and the underparts as well as the 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.

The Mountain Plover is much quieter than the Killdeer, its more familiar relative. Its calls are capricious, often low-pitched trilled or gurgling whistles. In courtship it makes a sound much like a distant cow mooing.

The Mountain Plover tends to prefer insects and other small arthropods for its main diet. Because of this it often associates with livestock, which attract and stir up their favorite prey.

During early spring, the Mountain Plovers builds its nest on bare ground. They lay three off-white eggs with blackish spots. It is thought that a large number of females leave their first clutch to be incubated by the male and lay a second clutch, which they incubate, elsewhere. If the eggs survive various dangers, especially such predators as Coyotes and Swift Foxes, they hatch in 28 to 31 days, and the hatchlings leave the nest within a few hours. In the next two or three days, the family usually moves one to two kilometers from the nest site to a good feeding area, often near a water tank for livestock.

Around late July, Mountain Plovers leave their breeding range for a period of post-breeding, nomadic wandering in and around the southern Great Plains. Little is known about their movements at this time, although they’re regularly seen around Walsh, Colorado and on sod farms in central New Mexico. By early November, most begin move southward and westward to their wintering grounds. Spring migration is direct and non-stop.

The population is estimated at between 5,000 and 11,000. This is the result of a long-term decline, but in 2003 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service withdrew a proposal to list the Mountain Plover as a threatened species, stating that the population was larger than had been thought and was no longer declining.