March 2018 Shorebird of the Month
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.
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.
HABITAT & RANGE
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.
CHEYENNE BOTTOMS AREA STATUS
Uncommon but known to pass through Kansas on migrations. More likely to be seen April-June than in the fall (August-November).