Courtesy Kenn Kaufman
The summer range of the Mountain Plover stretches across the Great Plains region, from Canada to Texas. Most breeding occurs in Wyoming, Montana, and Colorado. Up to 85% of the total population is thought to winter in California's Imperial and San Joaquin valleys, with smaller numbers spending the winter in Arizona, southern Texas and northern Mexico. The bird's range has been decreasing. The species no longer breeds in many areas where it was once found, particularly in the eastern and southern portions of its range.
A legend for the range map to the right can be found here
Mountain Plovers nest exclusively in flat, arid, sparsely vegetated areas, permitting a full view of their surroundings. Short-grass prairies are preferred. Where grasses are taller, the plovers stick to areas that have been heavily grazed or recently burned. They also occasionally breed in semi-desert areas, particularly south and west of the Great Plains. Although classified a "shorebird," the Mountain Plover is usually found far from water. In winter, the Mountain Plover generally seeks out plowed, grazed, or otherwise disturbed flat agricultural lands.
When feeding, Mountain Plovers typically run short distances across open, flat land, stopping suddenly to survey the area for prey. This energetic feeding method is repeated at length. Mountain Plovers occasionally stamp one foot on the ground to scare up prey. Preferred foods include grasshoppers, ants, beetles, and other small insects and invertebrates.
In spring, pairs quickly form on the breeding grounds. The species' unusual breeding process begins when the male plover excavates several simple nest scrapes, which he then displays to his mate. Once a scrape is deemed suitable, the female lays her eggs in the crude "nest." When the clutch of approximately three eggs is complete, the birds finally begin to construct an actual nest around the eggs. Bits of grass, leaves, dried cow manure, and other available materials are placed around the darkly speckled buff colored eggs until they are half buried. Equally unusual is the fact that many female Mountain Plovers actually lay two clutches of eggs at two separate nest sites. In such cases, the male takes exclusive responsibility for the first clutch, while the female goes off to lay and incubate the second. If eggs or young from either clutch are lost to predation, the plovers quickly re-nest. Consequently, each pair of Mountain Plovers may make up to four nesting attempts during a single breeding season.
Mountain Plover chicks are precocial, ready to move about and feed themselves almost immediately upon hatching. Most leave the nest within a few hours, and are led by a parent to the feeding grounds, which are often far from the nest site. In cases where there are two parents for just one brood, the young plovers are divided between the two adults. Young Mountain Plovers can fly within five weeks, and join larger mixed flocks of adults and young in time for fall migration.
Most Mountain Plovers are short-distance migrants. California flocks leave their wintering grounds in March, flying east over the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains, non-stop, until reaching their Great Plains breeding grounds. Fall migration is less direct, as small flocks of Mountain Plovers tend to wander around the southwest for several months before arriving on the wintering grounds. Small New Mexico and Texas populations may not undertake an annual migration.