Mountain Plovers were once numerous and widespread on the short-grass prairies of the western Great Plains. In the last two centuries the birds have become scarce and local breeders on these high-elevation range-lands. Although land use changes there have certainly had an impact, these plovers have probably been effected most by changes on their wintering grounds where they spend as much as nine months each year. The Central Valley of California which still provides a winter home for the bulk of the population, has changed in the last two centuries from a melange of marshes and prairies to a complex of intensive agricultural operations and urban areas (Knopf 1996).
DISTRIBUTION. During the 1987-1992 field work seasons of the TBBA project, observers found one confirmed breeding location in latilong 30103 near the Davis Mountains in the Trans-Pecos region and a probable site in latilong 35101 in the High Plains region of the Panhandle (see the region map in Lockwood and Freeman ). The very few breeding records are consistent with the Oklahoma BBA report of one possible record from Cimmaron County at the western end of their panhandle. This is the area of that state where nests have been found previously (Smith 2004).
Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico lie at the south end of the breeding range of this short-grass prairie species, with most breeding detected by the North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) occurring in Colorado and Wyoming (Sauer et al. 2007). In winter these plovers are found in lower elevation areas such as heavily grazed animal pastures, from northern California to northern Baja California and east across Arizona and northern Mexico to south Texas (Howell and Webb 1995, Knopf 1996).
SEASONAL OCCURRENCE. In Texas Mountain Plovers arrive on their breeding grounds from early March to late April and probably breed from April to August, as atlasers found in Colorado. Most migration probably occurs in August and September, although migrants are rarely reported. In winter these plovers are rare and local from September to early April (Oberholser 1974, Knopf 1996. Kuenning and Kingery 1998, Lockwood and Freeman 2004).
BREEDING HABITAT. In eastern Colorado where half of the BBS routes reporting Mountain Plovers are located, atlasers found about three-quarters of breeding records in short-grass prairie with most other reports from cropland or barren ground (Kuenning and Kingery 1998).
In flat portions of these habitat types, a male digs a number of shallow scrapes, often near “cow pies,” and displays to attract a female. In the bare scrape, a female usually lays 3 (range 1-4) dark olive-buff eggs with black spots and scrawls, see the photo in Harrison (1979, plate 8). During the incubation period of 28-31 days, the pair add bits of dry cow manure, grass roots and leaves until the eggs are at least half buried. This makes the eggs very hard to see. The precocial chicks leave the nest soon after hatching and remain with their parents until they join migratory and wintering flocks in early August (Harrison 1979, Knopf 1996).
STATUS. Lockwood and Freeman (2004) describe Mountain Plover as a very rare summer resident in the Panhandle and Trans-Pecos regions of this state. Although this species is more abundant in Texas in winter, the perhaps 100 birds are widely scattered (Knopf 1996).
Although BBS data for 1980-2006 suggest a +2.6% annual population change for the United States, earlier changes on both breeding and wintering grounds have reduced this once much more common species to a 1996 population of 8-10 thousand. Mountain Plovers were classified as a Candidate Species in the 1990s under the Endangered Species Act, but have languished there since, although this classification indicates listing is deserved (Knopf 1996).
Text by Robert C. Tweit (2008)
Harrison, H. H. 1979. A field guide to western birds’ nests. Houghton Mifflin, Boston, MA.
Howell, S. N. G. and S. Webb. 1995. A guide to the birds of Mexico and northern Central America. Oxford University Press, New York.
Knopf, F. L. 1996. Mountain Plover (Charadrius montanus). InThe birds of North America, No. 211 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.
Kuenning, R. R. and H. E. Kingery. 1998. Mountain Plover (Charadrius montanus). In Colorado breeding bird atlas, pp. 170-171 (H. E. Kingery, ed.), Colorado Bird Atlas Partnership, Denver.
Lockwood, M. W. and B. Freeman. 2004. The TOS handbook of Texas birds. Texas A&M University Press, College Station.
Oberholser, H. C. 1974. The bird life of Texas. University of Texas Press, Austin.
Sauer, J. R., J. E. Hines, and J. Fallon. 2007. The North American breeding bird survey, results and analysis 1966-2006. Version 7.23.2007. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel MD < http://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/bbs>
Smith, G. A. 2004. Mountain Plover (Charadrius montanus). In Oklahoma breeding bird atlas, pp. 142-143 (D. L. Reinking, ed.). University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.