A Little Help From My Friends – please

Please do not reproduce any of these images – treat them as copyrighted and ask permission if you want to use one. Thank you. DEC.

Plovers are not big birds. The largest is about the size of a pigeon but most are smaller than American Robins or European Blackbirds. They are mostly wetland edge birds; both coastal and fresh water. In Africa there are larger plovers now called lapwings – they used to be called plovers. Even in Africa there are still smallish birds that are called plovers; but the larger ones have been reclassified as lapwings. Anyway below are a few plovers from around the world, these are the smaller members of this group, the lapwings will have to wait their turn.

In the USA the plover that most people see is the Killdeer which is not one of the smallest. Killdeer are found coast to coast in the US and are very common in agricultural areas. But the plover that creates the most press coverage is the small pale gray Piping Plover. This little bird is threatened or endangered in most of the US and thus gets preferential treatment on our beaches. This special treatment is good for the nesting birds but is an impediment to wind-surfing, ORV driving, and other beach uses can that threaten the reproductive success of the bird. Walking and fishing are OK but sometimes vehicular access is limited so the babies don’t get run over and the adults don’t get forced off the nests.

Here are a few plovers from around the world and a bit on their life styles – the Piping Plover will be the last one shown and is also the bird that is at the head of this post. Due to their tendency to nest in areas that humans also enjoy they are in danger from our motorized vehicles and our pets. Not all are technically listed as endangered or threatened but they are almost always in the way of something or someone. Please watch out for them and respect their needs.

These birds are a common North American plover with lookalike cousins through most of Eurasia. These are Semipalmated Plover. The toes are in fact semi-palmated or partially webbed. This allows them to work the wetter ground along the edge of the shore. In the middle of the five plover is a Semipalmated Sandpiper; named for the same anatomical feature. On the east coast of the U.S. we see this species as both northward and southward migrants. Thus we may see them from early May until the end of September.
This image is a bit blurry – sorry – but we were in a rather fast-moving boat off the coast of Panama when we saw this Wilson’s Plover floating on a log. It is similar to the two-banded Killdeer and the previously shown Semipalmated Plover. People think shorebirds (sandpipers and plovers mostly) are a difficult group to identify; that is because most people are just a bit impatient. This bird is larger than a semi-plover and has a much larger bill. These are both noticeable in the field and even from a bouncing boat.
The Three-banded Plover (above) is an East African staple. Most wet areas will have these birds. The image below is also a Three-banded Plover. Like so many of the group they are born, medium-small sized, with a white forehead and bands around the neck. Figuring out the group isn’t too difficult, but getting the right species is sometimes more difficult.
As I have cropped this image to feature the bird you may not realize how well camouflaged it is when on this nest. From any distance the bird disappears. The sharp lines of white and brown actually provide a kind of camouflage called “ruptive”. Ruptive camouflage breaks something, in this case a bird, into pieces and allows it to blend in. Many camouflages try to mimic the surroundings directly – two ways to achieve the same end.
This is a Pied Plover, from Brazil. In this bird (and the next) the browns are now gray and the neck bands black. But they serve the same purpose and allow the birds to disappear into much of the habitat they live in.
The Australian Hooded Plover is much like our Piping Plover in that it isn’t common and its habitat is used by people. Australia has lots of beach and relatively few people so the bird isn’t seriously threatened. The bright red eyeing is a nice touch don’t you think?
The Piping Plover is often referred to as “that damn bird” by recreational beach goers but in fact is a hardy, though delicate looking, bird that returns in early April when our beaches are still very cold and windy. If all goes well they are done nesting by the Fourth of July and summer life can proceed. But often crows, foxes, coyotes, exceptional high tides, and careless people (and their pets) cause a nest to be destroyed and forces the adults too renest. This pushes beach management and restive regulations deeper into the summer. During the last thirty years or so we have pretty much managed to accept this as a way of life – thank you folks. It would be a shame to eliminate a species for the sake of sunbathing.

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