Wilson's Plover (nonbreeding plumage)
Family: (Charadriidae) Plovers and Lapwings
Preferred Habitat: Beaches.
Seasonal Occurrence: Common spring through fall; uncommon in winter. Breeds in our area.
Profile by Glenn Olsen: Named after the father of American Ornithology, Alexander Wilson, this coastal dwelling plover can be found year-round on our shores. Their numbers increase when birds from the coasts of Mexico and Central America begin arriving in late March to stake out a nesting site on the shorelines of our gulf beaches, bays, or mud flats. So the best months to see this interesting plover are late March through September.
It is a medium sized plover around 7½ to 8 inches in length but weighing only about 2 ounces. It is about 3 inches shorter than the Killdeer, a plover cousin, that is much more readily seen in a wide variety of habitats. The Wilson’s Plover has a back that is medium brownish-gray about the color of wet beach sand (great camouflage) with an off white underside and grayish-pink to flesh-colored legs. But the most distinctive characteristic is the bill. Like other plovers, it has a rather short stubby bill, but compared to other plovers the bill is quite large, broad, and thick. The bill is even thicker and broader than a Killdeer’s bill. The Wilson’s is the Jimmy Durante of plovers.
This species is entirely dependent on the narrow band of sand that forms our shoreline along the beach or the mud flats on the bayside, where it nests on the ground in a small depression. The dangers they face in nesting on this popular strip of land include cars that drive on the beach, people walking, dogs running on the beach, storms that cause high tides, oil spills, and trash. All these factors degrade the very limited microhabitat these plovers must have for nesting. Like most other plovers on the beach or mud flats, the Wilson’s Plover employs the walk fast, stop, look, listen and grab the food feeding strategy. This behavior readily identifies plovers, and the rather large bill of the Wilson’s will single this species out from all other similar plovers.
So, get out to Bolivar Flats, one of the top shorebird sites in the U.S, and find a Wilson’s Plover to observe and enjoy.