Semipalmated PloverCharadrius semipalmatus

adult male, breeding
Glenn Bartley/VIREO
juvenile
Claude Nadeau/VIREO
adult, nonbreeding
Richard Crossley/VIREO
juvenile
Glenn Bartley/VIREO
adult female, breeding
Arthur Morris/VIREO
juvenile
Jukka Jantunen/VIREO
adult, breeding
Arthur Morris/VIREO
adult, nonbreeding
Richard Crossley/VIREO
adult female, breeding
Arthur Morris/VIREO

Family

Description

The most common of the small plovers on migration through most areas. On its breeding grounds in the north, it avoids the tundra habitat chosen by most shorebirds, nesting instead on gravel bars along rivers or ponds. In such surroundings, its seemingly bold pattern actually helps to make the plover inconspicuous, by breaking up its outline against the varied background. The name "semipalmated" refers to partial webbing between the bird's toes.

Habitat

Shores, tideflats. Favors very open habitats on migration, including broad mudflats, sandy beaches, lake shores, pools in salt marsh; sometimes in flooded fields or even plowed fields with other shorebirds. Tends to avoid flats overgrown with too much marsh vegetation. Breeds in the north, mostly on open flats of sand or gravel near water.

Feeding Diet

Insects, crustaceans, worms. Diet varies with season and location. In breeding season and during migration inland, may feed mostly on insects, including flies and their larvae, also earthworms. On coast, eats many marine worms, crustaceans, small mollusks.

Feeding Behavior

Typically they run a few steps and then pause, then run again, pecking at the ground whenever they spot something edible. Will sometimes hold one foot forward and shuffle it rapidly over the surface of sand or mud, as if to startle small creatures into moving.

Nesting

In breeding season, male displays over territory by flying in wide circles with slow, exaggerated wingbeats, calling repeatedly. On ground, male may display by crouching with tail spread, wings open, and feathers fluffed up, while he gives calls with an excited sound. Nest site is on ground, amid sparse plant growth or on bare open gravel or sand, sometimes placed close to large rock or other landmark. Nest is shallow scrape in ground, sometimes lined with small leaves, other debris. Eggs: 4, rarely 3. Olive-buff to olive-brown, blotched with black and brown. Incubation is by both sexes, 23-25 days. Young: Downy young leave nest soon after hatching. Both parents tend young, but young find all their own food. Age at first flight about 23-31 days.

Eggs

4, rarely 3. Olive-buff to olive-brown, blotched with black and brown. Incubation is by both sexes, 23-25 days. Young: Downy young leave nest soon after hatching. Both parents tend young, but young find all their own food. Age at first flight about 23-31 days.

Young

Downy young leave nest soon after hatching. Both parents tend young, but young find all their own food. Age at first flight about 23-31 days.

Conservation

Seriously depleted by unrestricted shooting in late 19th century, but has recovered well, currently widespread and common.

Range

Migrates mostly late in spring and early in fall, with peak southbound flights in August. Has a very extensive winter range, along coasts from United States to southern South America.

Listen

cherry-up calls
flight calls
kwee-up calls

Similar Species

adult male, breeding

Snowy Plover

An inconspicuous, pale little bird, easily overlooked as it runs around on white sand beaches, or on the salt flats around lakes in the arid west. Where it lives on beaches, its nesting attempts are often disrupted by human visitors who fail to notice that they are keeping the bird away from its nest; as a result, the Snowy Plover populations have declined in many coastal regions. Formerly considered to belong to the same species as the Kentish Plover of the Old World.

adult male, breeding

Wilson's Plover

Several of our plovers are small birds with single dark neck rings. Wilson's Plover is slightly larger than the others, and has a more southerly distribution, living on beaches along the southern Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. Its oversized bill is not only its best field mark, but also a clue to its feeding behavior: some studies have shown that it tends to capture and eat slightly larger creatures than the other plovers on the beach.

adult male, breeding

Common Ringed Plover

This small shorebird is very much like our Semipalmated Plover, and replaces it in Europe and Asia. The breeding range of the Ringed Plover extends to Greenland and to some islands in the high Canadian Arctic, and a very few also come into western Alaska, but these birds virtually all cross to the Old World in fall before migrating south.

adult male, breeding

Piping Plover

A small plover with a very short bill. Its pale back matches the white sand beaches and alkali flats that it inhabits. While many shorebirds have wide distributions, this one is a North American specialty, barely extending into Mexico in winter. Many of its nesting areas are subject to human disturbance or other threats, and it is now considered an endangered or threatened species in all parts of its range.

Lesser Sand-Plover

This Asian plover is found in very small numbers in western Alaska in spring, when its bright pattern makes it unmistakable; it has even nested there. The species has also occurred as a rare stray in scattered areas south of Alaska, including Oregon, California, Alberta, Ontario, New Jersey, and Louisiana.

Killdeer

Widespread, common, and conspicuous, the Killdeer calls its name as it flies over farmland and other open country. Like other members of the plover family, this species is often found at the water's edge, but it also lives in pastures and fields far from water. At times, it nests on gravel roofs or on lawns. Many a person has been fooled by the bird's "broken-wing" act, in which it flutters along the ground in a show of injury, luring intruders away from its nest.

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