Gulf Restoration

Wilson's Plover

Photo: Greg Lasley/Vireo

Wilson's Plover

The Wilson's Plover has a global population of only a few thousand birds, many of which nest in Important Bird Areas along the U.S. Gulf Coast. Christmas Bird Count data show a sharp drop in numbers since the 1960s. The species is vulnerable to the same threats that trouble other birds of beaches and barrier islands: habitat loss and human disturbance. BP oil is still present in significant quantities in some IBAs, putting Wilson's Plovers at risk of ingesting contaminated food, not being able to find enough food, or transferring oil onto their chicks or eggs. And disturbance caused by ongoing cleanup activities could also reduce nest success for another year.

This medium-sized plover has a dark neck ring, grayish-brown upper parts, a white underside, and flesh-colored legs. A male in breeding plumage has a black band across its white breast. Breeding females are more muted in color. Nonbreeding adults of both sexes have a brown breast band.

Wilson's Plovers eat mostly crustaceans, including crabs, crayfish, and shrimp. The birds' bills are longer and heavier than that of many other plovers, allowing them to capture bigger prey, including the fiddler crabs they favor. Wilson's Plovers also feed on mollusks, marine worms, and insects. Foraging takes place during low tide on intertidal mudflats. The birds catch prey with a running lunge.

Wilson's Plovers nest either in isolated pairs or in colonies. During courtship, males perform ritual nest-scraping displays that involve dropping their wings, pattering their feet, and spreading and lowering their tails in front of females. Once paired, a male makes several nest scrapes, commonly near a piece of driftwood, clump of grass, or some other noticeable object. The female selects one, in which she typically lays three cream to buff eggs that are heavily spotted and speckled with black, dark brown, or gray. The female incubates by night, and the male by day, for about 25 days. Chicks leave the nest and begin to feed soon after hatching. Both parents tend the young until they become independent.