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Mountain Plover
Charadrius montanus

STATUS

U.S.A. proposed Threatened and California Species of Special Concern

LIFE HISTORY

Contrary to its name, the Mountain Plover is found mainly in the high plains and semi-desert regions of the western United States. Approximately 90% of the North American population winters in California and then migrates to breeding grounds in Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, New Mexico and other areas in the spring.

The Mountain Plover forages on alkaline flats, plowed ground, grazed pasture, and dry short grass prairie searching for large insects such as grasshoppers, crickets, and flies. It will forage in loose flocks, chasing after prey and capturing it with its pigeon-like bill.

The nest consists of a slight depression on bare flat ground with sparse vegetation. The birds arrive on the breeding grounds between March and April. Egg laying occurs between the months of April and June. Females exhibit a "rapid multi-clutch" breeding system whereby the female may lay one set of eggs that is incubated by the male and then a second set that she incubates. Some females may switch mates between egg sets while others will remain with their original mate. Typically 3 eggs are laid per clutch and these are incubated for approximately 29 days.

Distribution

Historical distribution included the Central Valley south of Sacramento County and a broad region encompassing the southern coastal plain and southern coastal interior valleys. Sightings also were recorded in San Diego County, Los Angeles County, and the Imperial Valley. Currently, Mountain Plovers winter in flocks in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys, in central and south-coastal California, east locally to the southwestern deserts and south to central Mexico. In winter (mid-October to March) flocks are regularly found on the Carrizo Plain, other parts of San Luis Obispo county, and along the western edges of Kern, Kings, Tulare, and Fresno counties. The loss of sparse grasslands to urban and agricultural uses has substantially fragmented both the breeding and wintering habitat of the Mountain Plover, resulting in population declines over the past few decades.

CLASSIFICATION

Order CHARADRIIFORMES, Family CHARADRIIDAE, Genus Charadrius, Species montanus

SUBSPECIES

No subspecies

RECENT SYNONYMS

None

OTHER COMMON NAMES

Prairie Plover, Upland Plover

REFERENCES

Farrand, J., Jr., (ed.). 1983. The Audubon Society master guide to birding, Vol.3. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. New York, New York, 399 pp.; Hunting, K. 2000. Mountain Plover. California Partners in Flight grassland bird conservation plan. Point Reyes Bird Observatory. http://www.prbo/CPIF/Grassland/MOPL.html (4 Dec. 2000).; Peterson, R.T. 1990. A field guide to western birds. Houghton-Mifflin, Boston, Massachusetts, 432 pp.; Terres, J.K. 1996. The Audubon Society encyclopedia of North American birds. Wings Books, New York, 1109 pp.

SIZE

Total length: 20-24 cm

Weight: 105 g

IDENTIFICATION

The Mountain Plover is a plain brown wading bird with white under parts and a sandy-buff wash across the breast. During the breeding season, adults develop a black fore-crown, white forehead and a white line over the eye. In flight, the Mountain Plover can be distinguished from other plovers by its thin white wing stripe, white wing linings and black tail band. The Mountain Plover is larger in size and has longer legs than most other species of plovers. The Mountain Plover is approximately the same size as a killdeer, but it lacks the black breast bands. In winter plumage, it can be distinguished from winter golden plovers by its grayer back, pale legs, and its light wing stripe and dark tail band in flight.

AUTHOR OF PROFILE

K. E. Kreitinger

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