Mountain plover  Charadrius montanus
ESA status: none

mountain plover

The mountain plover is one of the many species that depends on prairie dog colonies in the West. Mountain plovers like to nest in prairie dog towns, and considering the difficulties they face in making it to adulthood it is in their interests to choose wisely. Their nests are shallow depressions in the ground, and though their dark olive and black eggs are well-camouflaged, they are vulnerable to predators such as coyotes, swift foxes, and ground squirrels.  More than half of the egg clutches are lost to predation. Once the chicks hatch, they can almost immediately run and feed themselves.  During their first few weeks of life, they are most concerned with avoiding predators such as prairie falcons, ferruginous hawks, golden eagles, and loggerhead shrikes, and staying out of the hot prairie sun in the shade of tall grass, fence posts, telephone poles, or their parents.

The mountain plover may be egalitarian as far as chick-rearing duties are concerned; there is some evidence that female plovers lay a second clutch that they attend to while the males incubate the first clutch. Most nesting occurs in Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming; there is substantially less breeding in their former habitats in Arizona, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and Mexico, and the bird is now extinct in Utah.  Most of the global population winters in California. These wide-ranging birds are struggling with the decline of their preferred nesting sites in prairie dog towns and loss of their California wintering sites to vineyards, orchards, and urban development.  All five species of prairie dog have suffered dramatic declines and occupy only around 2 percent of their former ranges. Yet wholesale poisoning and shooting of prairie dogs continues. When mountain plovers try to seek alternative nest sites, it often ends badly.  Farm equipment can destroy the nests of birds who settle on untilled fields. Birds who renest after the fields are planted soon find themselves surrounded by too-tall vegetation and abandon their nests.  

As increasing human development overruns plover habitat and the prairie dogs who provide them their best nesting sites are persecuted, the difficulties the plover faces have taken their toll: this bird has declined by over 66 percent in the past few decades. Recent estimates place the bird’s total numbers at 5,000-11,000 individuals, a small number for a bird who lives just two years on average.

We are urging the federal government to protect all five species of prairie dogs and the diverse community of animals that depend on them, including the mountain plover. The plover has twice been proposed for listing, and twice the listing proposed has been withdrawn. We continue to advocate for the plover and we will not rest until these small, graceful birds have a safe home.

Watch these videos of the mountain plover:
good front view   running and side view

photo credit: Oklahoma State University
sound credit: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Macaulay Library