Although now protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, large numbers of American Golden-Plover were killed in the 1800s and early 1900s by market hunters, and the population of this species is still struggling to rebound from this earlier decimation. This, when compounded by the loss of wintering habitat in South America, and a deep concern for migratory habitat in the U.S., has resulted in the American Golden-Plover being placed on Audubon's WatchList. Indiana has a strong connection to the lifecycle and, resultantly, conservation responsibility of this species of bird.
Each spring, typically during late March and early April, large flocks of American Golden-Plover arrive in west-central Indiana where a relatively narrow patch of prairie once intruded from the west, which was these birds' historically-favored staging habitat. Although much of this area is now an agricultural landscape (over 90 percent of Benton County's land use is for farming), the golden-plover still find these fertile fields as acceptable migratory resting and feeding grounds.
Although golden-plover can be found in sizeable congregations in many areas in west-central Indiana, including the fields in such counties as Newton, White, and Montgomery, research indicates that Benton County typically supports the largest numbers of American Golden-Plovers in the state. Spring-time flocks are especially concentrated in the two southern-most quadrants of Union Township; this approximately 18 square-mile area is the heart of Indiana's 'American Golden-Plover' Important Bird Area.
Research performed by Purdue University in 1998 found that perhaps anywhere from 42,000 to 84,000 American Golden-Plover visited the adjacent landscapes of Benton and White counties during that spring. Furthermore, over a seven year period, the Sycamore Audubon Society of Lafayette, Indiana, surveyed golden-plover populations with single-day counts and found that between 5000 and 6000 birds simultaneously use the agricultural fields in the southern quadrants of Union Township, Benton County, which is the specific acreage encompassed by this Important Bird Area. Given the fact that the USFWS estimates that the global American Golden-Plover population is approximately 150,000 birds, this research by Sycamore Audubon indicates that no less than 3 percent of all individuals of this species can be found within this IBA in a single day during spring migration!
While staging during spring migration in west-central Indiana, large congregations of feeding golden-plover can be found in harvested row-crop fields. A primary step in the process of conservation is to ensure that the agricultural areas of this IBA are not affected by urban sprawl or constructed into residential, industrial, commercial, or other types of developments. The conservation provisions of the Farm Bill, which provide important incentives to farmers, must be supported by Hoosier lawmakers, residents, and conservationists alike.
The aforementioned golden-plover research also showed that the birds had a marked preference for untilled soybean plots, although they will utilize tilled soybean fields as well. Consequently, farmers can also take steps to help ensure a future for these migratory birds. By practicing no-till techniques, agriculturalists will be doing their part to help provide migratory habitat for golden-plover the following spring. Placing fallow land in habitat incentive programs, like the USDA Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), can also provide important habitat. This is especially true when the uplands are either planted to short-grass prairie mixes, or burned in early spring to ensure appropriate vegetation heights, and when low areas are restored to shallow, herbaceous wetlands.