Black-bellied Plover

 

 

Common Name: Black-bellied Plover

Class:  Aves

Order: Charadriiformes

Family: Charadriidae

Genus: Pluvialis

Species: Pluvialis squatarola

 

 

TAXONOMY

The Black-bellied Plover (also known as the Grey Plover) belongs to the nominal family of the order Charadriiformes, which mainly consists of medium to large shorebirds. They are moderately large, stocky wading birds that are approximately 28-29 cm in length, have relatively short bills, and weigh around 200 g. In terms of appearance, Black-bellied plovers look much different depending on the time of the year. During the fall and winter months (August to April), their backs and rumps are a drab gray-brown and their under-parts are most commonly white. Certain birds also exhibit brown flecking on the breast. During the spring and summer months (April to September), Black-bellied Plovers molt to obtain their breeding plumage. Males obtain completely black under-pars with bright white streaks that come down the side of their heads and necks. Their backs are speckled with black and white spots. This type of coloration with the under-parts being darker than the back is known as reverse counter-shading and make the male more conspicuous so that it can attract mates more easily. Females look a duller than males during the breeding season, and many lack the definitive white head striping. Also, their bellies and under-parts usually have some white mixed in with the black.

HABITAT/DIET

Black-bellied Plovers are coastal birds that live on a very wide range of latitudes. In North America, they breed on the coasts of western Alaska and in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago on dry tundra that has abundant lichens and small shrubs. This is also where they forage during the breeding season, primarily feeding on insects. They spend their winters on essentially the every coastline of America, Mexico, and Central America, as well as on neighboring islands. During high tide on these coastlines, they roost in flocks on the upper part of beaches, dunes, and pastures. When the tide goes out, they forage on muddy and sandy flatlands for crustaceans and marine worms, as well as oysters and clams. They can also occasionally by found in rocky areas or in freshwater habitats more inland.

 

BEHAVIOR

 

Black-bellied Plovers generally forage on their own but roost and fly in small flocks of usually less than 20 individuals. They are largely inactive during high tide and during low tide they can get around by flying, running, or swimming. They are often seen bathing by dunking their heads in the water, splashing around, and preening. Black-bellied Plovers are also relatively territorial, with males staking out their own foraging and breeding territories that can reach up to a couple hundred meters in radius. They defend these territories with aggressive threat displays that involve ruffling feathers, flicking pebbles, and even running at an intruder. In terms of reproduction, Black-bellied Plovers are thought to be completely monogamous and form pair bonds that last for the duration of the breeding season. The males attract females through a flight display where they glide over the ground with their necks outstretched and sometimes zigzag before ascending again and dashing towards the ground. After mating, females lay eggs in a shallow scrape nest and the clutch size is virtually always 4. Both parents incubate the eggs and brood the hatchlings which are precocial, meaning that they are born covered in down and can leave the nest soon after hatching. Fledging occurs after about 23 days which is relatively short for large shorebirds.

 

WHERE TO FIND THEM

 

Black-bellied Plovers can be seen during the spring and fall migration on the coast of any major water source, such as Lake Erie or Lake Ontario.

 

Birds of Western New York is brought to you by the Institute for the Study of Human-Animal Relations at Canisius College in Buffalo, NY.