Black-bellied Plover (Pluvialis squatarola)

Black-bellied plovers are nervous birds, easily scared into flight by the slightest disturbance. It is possibly because of their heightened wariness that they were less affected by hunting during the early 1900s than other, less vigilant species of shorebirds. When feeding in mixed flocks, black-bellied plovers are often the first to notice an approaching predator and take off, alerting other species.

Description

The black-bellied plover is a plump bird, 26-34 cm in length- somewhat larger than a robin. Its breeding plumage is strikingly beautiful: it has all-black underparts, a black bill and legs, and a white scarf running across its forehead and down the sides of its neck. The feathers of its head, back and wings are black with white borders, giving this bird a silvery, scaled appearance. It can be distinguished from the American golden-plover by its grey rather than brown colouration and by the white area under its rump. In the winter this bird has an unremarkable, mottled light brown plumage with white, lightly speckled underparts. The black-bellied plover is sometimes called the grey plover, because of its silvery plumage.

Distribution

The black-bellied plover is the only plover that breeds exclusively in the Arctic. It breeds from Alaska across to Baffin Island. It spends its winters from coastal British Columbia south to Chile, and on the east coast from Nova Scotia to Brazil.

Ecology

Pairs of black-bellied plovers scatter themselves widely across the tundra, so large concentrations of these birds are rarely seen. Their nesting sites vary from coastal marshes to dry, rocky flats, inland gravelly plains, and uplands. A small patch, often lined with a few smooth stones and leaves, is scraped out before four eggs are laid and then incubated for 27 days. At the end of the summer, the adults head south early, while the young follow up to two months later.

The black-bellied plover does not moult into its winter plumage until it has reached its destination - often in the southern hemisphere! Sometimes, year-old birds do not migrate at all, as they are not yet mature for breeding, and instead remain in wet, grassy fields, or on the margins of lakes and rivers that do not freeze.