Mountain Plover

The Mountain Plover (Charadrius montanus) is a species of ground bird found in the high plains of North America from southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan to northern New Mexico and the Texas panhandle. There is an isolated population that occurs in the Davis Mountains of western Texas. Most of the population winters in the San Joaquin and Imperial Valleys of California. The winter range also extends along the U.S.-Mexican border, mostly on the Mexican side. The Mountain Plover is misnamed, as most plover species are common around bodies of water or wet soil. This species prefers a dry habitat with short grass (for grazing) and bare ground.

A midsummer migration or wandering occurs in this species after the breeding season, and birds are commonly found around the Great Plains. Little is known about their movements at this time, although they are common around Walsh, Colorado and on sod farms in central New Mexico. By early November, most of the population moves further south and west to their wintering range. The springtime return is direct and non-stop.

The adult Mountain Plover is 8 to 9.5 inches long and weighs approximately 3.7 ounces. The upperparts are sandy brown and the underparts and face are whitish. The fore-crown has black feathers. There is a black stripe from each eye to the bill. This bird has no band across its breast, unlike other plovers in its genus. It is a quiet species. The call is variable, either low-pitched trills or gurgling whistles. The courtship call sounds like that of a far-off cow mooing.

The diet of the Mountain Plover consists mainly of insects and other small arthropods. It is often found around livestock, which attract and stir up insects. The nest is bare ground and breeding takes place in early spring (April in northern Colorado). The female lays three eggs per clutch. The eggs are off-white with dark gray-black spots. Sometimes the female will leave the male to incubate the first clutch and will move on to lay a second clutch, which they will incubate. The eggs hatch in 28 to 31 days, and the hatchlings leave the nest within a few hours. After a few days, the entire family usually moves about a mile from the nesting site to a good feeding area, usually near a water tank for livestock.

The population is estimated at 5,000 to 11,000 individuals. The is the result of a long-term decline. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service withdrew a proposal in 2003 to list the species as threatened, stating that the population was no longer declining and the populations were larger than previously thought. It was formerly classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN, but research has shown it to be not as rare as it was believed. It has been down listed to Near Threatened status in 2008.