Bird of the Week

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Photo courtesy Byron Greco

This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the semipalmated plover.

At first glance, this bird might be mistaken for a killdeer, a bird commonly seen in our area and at all times of year. However, if you spot the two together, the physical differences are apparent.

The semipalmated plover, stopping here in migration, is a small shorebird, brown on top and white underneath. It has a rounded head and short, stubby bill colored orange at the base, a white collar around its short neck and a single black breast band. The larger adult killdeer has a black bill and two black chest bands.

Unlike other shorebirds that use long, sensitive bills to probe in the mud for food, plovers use their small, powerful bills to snatch food from the surface. Equipped with large eyes for spotting prey, the semipalmated plover feeds by running along the shoreline for several steps, stopping and staring at the ground, and pecking at the insects, crustaceans or worms that it sees. It may startle prey into moving by rapidly stirring one foot over the sand or mud ahead of it. Semipalmated is a reference to the partial webbing between its toes.

This is one of the most common small plovers seen across North America in migration. It travels to the subarctic for breeding, where it nests in open sites on gravel bars, and on shale or sandy areas near lakes, marshes or rivers. It spends winters in marine habitats along both coasts of the United States to as far south as South America. It is one of the few plover species whose numbers are increasing due to its widespread winter distribution.

For information on activities, visit www.weminucheaudubon.org and www.facebook.com/weminucheaudbon/.