Be Your Own Birder

Plovers Helping People

Did you know plovers – those sturdy-billed shorebirds not always found on the shore – help people in many ways? Learning more about all plovers do for us is a great way to realize just how much more we should be doing for them.

Hooded Plover - Photo by patrickkavanagh
Hooded Plover – Photo by patrickkavanagh

What Is a Plover?

All plovers belong to the bird family Charadriidae, but they don’t all have plover in their names. Along with familiar plovers – piping, common ringed, semipalmated, snowy – the dotterels, lapwings, and the killdeer are all plovers and belong to this family as well. Each of these birds has a relatively short, stout bill, a short neck, and a largish, rounded head. Their leg lengths and overall markings vary, though they generally have tones of brown, beige, tan, rust, and white in their plumage, with gray or black markings or bands. Their bills and legs can be more colorful, ranging from grayish to bright yellow, orange, or red, and some plovers have very bold eye rings.

Where We See Plovers

While most plovers are traditionally associated with shoreline habitats and beaches in particular, these birds are far more widespread than many birders realize. In the high Arctic breeding ranges of different species, plovers may be found well inland in tundra habitats, particularly where permafrost has softened and there are slight marshy bits of habitat. Some plovers, such as the mountain plover (Charadrius montanus) are right at home in inland grassy plains, and the killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) in particular is widespread in all types of open non-shore country, including meadows, scrub fields, sports parks, and parking lots. The masked lapwing (Vanellus miles) is common in all of northern Australia, the northern lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) occupies a wide range from western Europe to east Asia, and many other plovers are found far from traditional shoreline habitats.

Killdeer - Photo by Allan Hack
Killdeer – Photo by Allan Hack

How Plovers Help People

Wherever we find them, plovers are helpful birds that offer many benefits to humans. Not only can birders enjoy their engaging antics as these birds run-stop-run while foraging, but everyone can benefit from plovers.

  • As these birds forage for insects, worms, and crustaceans, they control those populations that would otherwise soon be overwhelming.
  • Plovers’ foraging habits help keep beaches clean as they overturn wrack and debris, breaking it up so it is swept back into the sea.
  • Plovers’ probing habits helps aerate the top layer of soil, improving its composition for a healthier ecosystem and richer growth.
  • Inland plovers eat many ticks, mosquitoes, and locusts, thereby helping agricultural production that would be harmed by these insects.
  • Many plovers serve as keystone species for environmental evaluation, quickly showing problems so they can be addressed right away.
Piping Plovers - Photo by Craig Watson/USFWS
Piping Plovers – Photo by Craig Watson/USFWS

How We Can – And Should! – Help Plovers

Plovers can’t do all they do without a bit of help, however. Because many of these small birds rely on healthy beaches for nesting and foraging, it is critical that beaches be protected so the birds are not threatened or harassed. To help protect plovers…

  • Keep beaches clean! Always pick up your own litter, and consider participating in beach cleanups to help protect habitat.
  • Respect “beach closed” and “nesting area” signs by staying out of protected zones so birds have space to feel comfortable.
  • Keep dogs leashed or well under control on the beach, and do not let them chase birds that need their energy for foraging.
  • Leave bird habitats intact by leaving driftwood, seaweed, and shells on the beaches for birds to forage. Inland, leave native plants intact.
  • Support local businesses that practice plover-friendly habits, such as limiting plastic straw use and sponsoring habitat cleanups.
  • Protect inland plovers by keeping clear of nests, preserving habitat, and picking up litter that causes problems for all birds.
  • Raise awareness of these birds and their needs by sharing them with other beachgoers, birders, family members, and anyone interested!

Even a few small steps can really make a big difference for these charming birds.

Plover Appreciation Day

Did you know plovers have their own day for celebration, awareness, and protection? September 16 is officially Plover Appreciation Day, but it’s not the only day you can use to appreciate these birds. Once you realize just how much they do for us and how easy it is to do things for them, every day can – and should! – be plover appreciation day!

River Lapwing - Photo by shrikant rao
River Lapwing – Photo by shrikant rao

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