Mountain Plover

Nicole DollBlog, Education

Mountain Plover
  • Scientific NameCharadrius montanus 
  • SARA Status: Endangered (under consideration for)
  • COSEWIC Status: Endangered  
  • COSEWIC Range: Alberta, Saskatchewan  

Contrary to what their name suggests, mountain plovers are endemic to the Great Plains of North America and do not inhabit mountain environments or frequent shores like other species of plovers. They are rare in Canada, which attracts birders from all over the country in hopes of spotting the mystique bird. 

Photo by Mia McPherson, courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  

The mountain plover has similar features to that of a killdeer, but is slightly smaller, has longer legs, and is missing the black striped plumage. Breeding individuals have a white forehead along with a black patch on their head, as well as a black stripe connecting the eye and the bill.

They are often called the “prairie ghost” since they suddenly disappear when people spot them. In reality, they just sit down when they are alarmed, blending in perfectly with their surroundings.  

Within Canada, the mountain plover exists within the very southeastern part of Alberta, and the very southwestern part of Saskatchewan. Observations have been irregular, with only 44 observations recorded since 1874. This makes it difficult to estimate the population size, but it is believed that there are under 50 individuals that spend their summer in Canada.  

These species are sensitive, habitat-specialists that rely on other prairie species such as black-tailed prairie dogs, bison, and pronghorns to create suitable habitat. They prefer areas that are flat with low-lying vegetation and bare ground. This often involves areas with high-intensity grazing or that have been recently burned.  

Threats: The mountain plover has been threatened by habitat loss from the conversion of native grasslands to cropland. Ongoing habitat degradation in winter areas such as California is also occurring.

They have also been heavily affected by the decline of other prairie species and the removal of native grazers, such as bison and prairie dogs, which influence their remaining suitable habitat. Since the populations are so small and fragmented now, weather events such as droughts and heavy precipitation significantly impact the chances of finding suitable habitat for nesting.  

What’s being done:  The mountain plover is protected under the Migratory Birds Convention Act (1994) as well as Canada’s Species at Risk Act. It’s unknown whether or not it’s possible to have a self-sustaining population in Canada, however, the likelihood will increase if the maintaining nesting habitat is protected by conservation agreements and stewardship. Due to lack of information, critical habitat is not yet identified in the recovery strategy.  

Resources:  

Mountain Plover Overview 

Mountain plover (Charadrius montanus) recovery strategy – Canada.ca 

Mountain Plover (Charadrius montanus) 

Status of the Mountain Plover (Charadrius montanus) in Alberta