Black-bellied plover
Black-bellied Plover also called gray or grey plovers. © Flickr User marneejill (CC-by-SA 2.0)

Stories in Kansas

Black-bellied Plover

March 2018 Shorebird of the Month

Robert Penner stands with crossed arms, looking to his left and laughing.
Robert Penner Cheyenne Bottoms and Avian Programs Manager, Kansas


Shorebird Watching

Cheyenne Bottoms Preserve


With nearly thirty-six years of conducting shorebird surveys in Nebraska and Kansas, the Black-Bellied Plover remains on my list as one of the more elusive shorebirds. Most years, the really good birders always seem to find a few at Cheyenne Bottoms. I, on the other hand, still find it a treat to spot one or perhaps a small group of these plovers. The majority of my observations have been in wet meadows. I identified my very first Black-Bellied Plover up in Nebraska, and though that was many years ago, I can still remember that day like it was only a few months ago.

Fun Facts

On the lookout: black-bellied plovers are often the first to flush and sound an alarm call.

One toe up on the competition: all other North American plovers have 3 toes; black-bellied plovers add a fourth hind toe but it's difficult to see from a distance.

A plover by any other name: black-bellied plovers are sometimes called gray or grey plovers.

Charcoal drawing of a black-bellied plover
Black-bellied plover (Pluvialis squatarola) The males of this species appear similar to American golden-plover but can be distinguished by the white rump feathers. © Robert Penner/TNC


Black-bellied plovers (Pluvialis squatarola) are common on six continents (sorry, Antarctica). They breed in the Arctic, migrate through much of North America and Europe and winter in the south. True to the shorebird name, these plovers stick to oceanic coastlines except when migrating. That's when they'll stop at  interior wetlands like Cheyenne Bottoms, flooded agricultural lands and even sandbars in large rivers to feed on worms and other invertebrates.


Low/least concern. Breeding grounds are so far north that there is little human disturbance. Some climate models indicate these birds may move inland as coastal habitat decreases.


Uncommon but known to pass through Kansas on migrations. More likely to be seen April-June than in the fall (August-November).


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Robert Penner stands with crossed arms, looking to his left and laughing.

Rob has worked as The Nature Conservancy’s Cheyenne Bottoms Preserve Manager for 22 years, increasing habitat for migrating shorebirds and nesting grassland birds at the world-renowned wetland.

More About Robert Penner, PhD