The Other Plover -Fall 2019

There’s no Pal like a Semi-pal (Plover, that is)

by: Virginia Andrews

Fall means migration to many species of birds, and beachgoers and birders alike enjoy watching shorebirds. From tall, leggy waders to stocky little plovers, shorebirds follow the tides as they rest and feed, breaking the long trip on our beaches. one of the most common september sights is the semipalmated Plover.

Semipalmated Plovers nest in the far north, from the north slope of Alaska to the shores of Hudson and James bays, to Newfoundland. They can be seen across the entire United States on migration, but many head for the coasts. They spend winters along saltwater coastlines on both sides of the continents of North and South America. In the west they winter from California to Chile. On the Atlantic side they range from Virginia to Argentina. They migrate in stages, with females leaving first, followed by the males, and then by the birds of the year. These can be distinguished by fresher, more scallop-patterned plumage.

Semipalmated means partially “palmate,” or slightly palm-like. There is a small bit of tissue, or webbing, between their front toes. Their feet are not fully webbed like ducks or gulls, but their digits are not completely separated. They are not swimmers by preference, but they are nonetheless comfortable in damp places.

Like all plovers they have a characteristic style of movement, which is to run-stop-look, run-stop-look, run-stop-peck, as they feed along the shore. They are often seen on beaches with Sanderlings. But Sanderlings follow the waves, dashing up and down like little wind-up toys as they follow the edge of the surf.

They are active between the waves’ advance and retreat. Sanderlings hang together, feeding in close groups. Sanderlings are slimmer. Plovers are plump and more dignified. Semipals usually spread out more and work higher on the berm of the beach. They concentrate in flocks to sleep, where a few vigilant birds maintain the predator watch. Unlike Sanderlings, they have yellow legs and feet, short bills and a white collar around the neck defined by a dark ring of brown or black plumage.

They are sometimes mistaken for the much rarer – and much more invisible – Piping Plovers. When the species sometimes overlap, the differences are more obvious.

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