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Photo credit: Oklahoma State University

Mountain plover (Charadrius montanus) | ESA status: none

Mountain plover

The mountain plover is one of many species dependent on prairie dogs in the West. Mountain plovers nest in prairie dog towns, and considering the obstacles they must overcome just to reach adulthood, these birds need the best nesting sites they can find.

Mountain plover nesting

Mountain plover nests are shallow depressions in the ground. Though their dark-olive-and-black eggs are well-camouflaged, they are nevertheless vulnerable to predators such as coyotesswift foxes, and ground squirrels. More than half of mountain plover egg clutches are lost to predation.

Plover chicks can run and feed themselves almost immediately after hatching. 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. Another consideration: escaping the hot prairie sun by hiding in the shade of tall grasses, fence posts, telephone poles, and adult plovers. 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.

Mountain plover habitat

Most mountain plovers nest 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.

What are the threats to the mountain plover?

These wide-ranging birds are struggling with the decline of their preferred nesting sites in prairie dog towns and the loss of their California wintering sites to vineyards, orchards, and urban development. When mountain plovers seek alternative nest sites, it often ends badly. Farm equipment can destroy the nests of birds that settle on untilled fields. Birds that re-nest after the fields are planted soon find themselves surrounded by too-tall vegetation and abandon their nests.

The prairie dogs upon which the plovers depend have suffered dramatic declines and occupy only around two percent of their former ranges, yet wholesale poisoning and shooting of prairie dogs continues. All told, the bird’s population has declined by more than 66 percent in the past few decades, and recent estimates place its total numbers at between 5,000 and 11,000 individuals. This is a pitiful number for a bird that lives just two years on average.

What WildEarth Guardians is doing to protect the mountain plover

We are urging the federal government to adequately 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 birds have a safe home.