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A photo of a Mountain Plover (Charadrius montanus)
Mountain Plover

Mountain Plover

Charadrius montanus

The Mountain Plover (Anarhynchus montanus) is a medium-sized bird that, despite its name, does not dwell in mountainous regions. It is a member of the plover family, Charadriidae, and is characterized by its preference for dry, level habitats with short grass and bare ground. This bird stands between 5-9 inches tall, measures 8-10 inches in length, and weighs approximately 102 grams.

Identification Tips

Adult Mountain Plovers are sandy brown on their upperparts, with whitish underparts and face. They lack the distinctive breast band common to many plovers. Notable features include black feathers on the forecrown and a black stripe extending from each eye to the bill, which may appear brown and less distinct in winter plumage. Both sexes are similar in size and appearance.

Habitat

The Mountain Plover favors open, dry areas with short vegetation, often due to grazing activities. It is not typically found near water bodies or on wet soil, preferring habitats that offer clear visibility and easy access to food sources.

Distribution

Breeding populations of Mountain Plovers are found in the high plains of North America, ranging from southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan to northern New Mexico and the Texas panhandle. A notable isolated population exists in the Davis Mountains of West Texas. During winter, they migrate to the San Joaquin and Imperial Valleys in California and areas along the U.S.-Mexican border.

Behaviour

Mountain Plovers are known for their association with livestock, which helps to stir up insects for them to feed on. They exhibit a unique breeding strategy, with females potentially laying multiple clutches of eggs and males taking on incubation duties for the first clutch. These birds are also known for their post-breeding movements across the southern Great Plains.

Song & Calls

The calls of the Mountain Plover are variable, often described as low-pitched trilled or gurgling whistles. During courtship, they emit a sound reminiscent of a distant cow mooing.

Breeding

Mountain Plovers nest on bare ground in early spring, with a preference for areas grazed by bison and black-tailed prairie dogs. The survival rate of nests varies widely, influenced by climate and predation. Females lay clutches of three eggs, with egg size decreasing as the season progresses. Uniparental incubation is practiced, with females leaving the first clutch to the male and tending to a second clutch themselves.

Similar Species

The Mountain Plover can be distinguished from other Charadrius plovers by its lack of a breast band and its unique habitat preferences.

Diet and Feeding

Primarily insectivorous, the Mountain Plover feeds on insects and other small arthropods, often in areas disturbed by grazing animals.

Conservation status

The Mountain Plover is currently classified as Near Threatened by the IUCN. Its population is in decline due to habitat loss from cultivation, urbanization, and over-grazing. Conservation efforts focus on preserving breeding and wintering habitats, as well as prairie dog colonies, which are crucial for their nesting success.

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