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Mountain Plover Life History



Mountain Plovers nest in shortgrass prairie, especially where blue grama, buffalo grass, and western wheat grass are dominant; and in grassy semidesert with scattered saltbush, sage, prickly pear, and yucca, at elevations ranging from 2,100 to 10,663 feet. They also nest in fallow or recently plowed agricultural fields and in overgrazed landscapes that mimic their natural shortgrass habitat. Mountain Plovers often nest around prairie-dog towns. During migration they may appear in almost any shortgrass habitat, including sod farms, playas, or tilled fields. Wintering birds also gather in tilled or burned farm fields, harvested alfalfa fields, alkaline flats, and coastal prairies in South Texas.

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Mountain Plovers eat mostly insects, including grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, and ants. They occasionally eat scorpions and centipedes, and rarely eat seeds. Like many other plovers, they have a run-and-stop foraging method: they move forward quickly several feet, then pause, scan the landscape, and repeat the process. When they see a prey item, they dash toward it and seize it with the bill. In tilled and uneven ground, they inspect crannies in the landscape for prey, and in taller grass, they pump the tail or tremble a foot, probably in attempts to flush prey such as grasshoppers.

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Nest Placement


Males make multiple scrapes on bare or nearly bare ground, sometimes in burned areas, fallow fields, or recently planted fields.

Nest Description

Nests are shallow scrapes lined with lichen, grass, roots, leaves, with the eggs often partially covered with droppings of rabbits, cattle, or other mammals. Nests average about 3.7 inches across and 1 inch deep.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:1-4 eggs
Egg Description:


Condition at Hatching:

Downy and active, able to leave nest as soon as down dries.

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Ground Forager

Mountain Plovers arrive on breeding grounds in early spring, usually in April. Males claim territories and display to prospective partners almost as soon as they arrive. The males prepare potential nests, making scrapes with feet and breast. While showing these sites to a female, the male bows, fans the tail, lowers the head, and gives a low, mooing call. A receptive female may respond in kind, whereupon the male might begin a prancing display around her that ends in mating. Males also make lovely graceful displays called "butterfly" and "falling leaf." Females often visit territories of multiple males before selecting a partner (and sometimes mate with multiple partners). Male and female remain together during the nesting season. However, in this species, the pair uses 2 nests as a rule: the female splits her clutch (usually 6 eggs) between a nest at which she incubates and a nest where the male incubates. These nests can be far apart, though often within sight of each other. Fewer than half of females return to the same territory (or male) in subsequent years. After the young have fledged, they begin departing the breeding areas with their parents in July. Most arrive on their wintering grounds in early November, and not much is known about their movements in the intervening months.

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Red Watch List

Mountain Plover populations declined by an estimated 3.4% per year between 1968 and 2015, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. This annual rate equates to a cumulative decline of 81% over that period. Partners in Flight estimates a breeding population of 20,000, rates the species a 17 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, and includes the species on the Red Watch List. A proposal to list the species as federally Endangered was rejected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2003. The chief conservation concern for more than a century has been the destruction or conversion of their native habitat and removal of grazing species such as prairie dogs, bison, and pronghorns. Numerous changes in farm practices have also contributed to rapid declines in the population of this species. This species is exposed to an array of pesticides and other chemicals on both wintering and breeding grounds, but the effects of this exposure are unknown.

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Andres, B. A., P. A. Smith, R. I. G. Morrison, C. L. Gratto-Trevor, S. C. Brown, and C. A. Friis (2012). Population estimates of North American shorebirds, 2012. Wader Study Group Bulletin 119:178–194.

Knopf, Fritz L. and M. B. Wunder. (2006). Mountain Plover (Charadrius montanus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2017). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2015. Version 2.07.2017. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sauer, J. R., J. E. Hines, J. E. Fallon, K. L. Pardieck, Jr. Ziolkowski, D. J. and W. A. Link. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, results and analysis 1966-2012 (Version 02.19.2014). USGS Patuxtent Wildlife Research Center 2014. Available from

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

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