Mountain Plover (Charadrius montanus)
Associated Species: Other species that may use habitat in a similar way and/or respond similarly
to threats, management, and conservation activities include Long-billed Curlew, Burrowing Owl,
Horned Lark, and McCown's Longspur.
Distribution: Mountain Plovers breed from southern Alberta south through western Oklahoma
and western Texas, and west through central New Mexico. In Colorado, populations are
concentrated in and around the Pawnee and Comanche National Grasslands and in South Park.
Small numbers of plovers nest in North Park and the San Luis Valley.
Habitat Requirements: Mountain Plovers will breed in shortgrass prairie where the topography
is fairly flat (slopes <5¼) with very short (5 cm; 2 in) and sparse vegetation. They are often
found where vegetation height and density have been reduced through grazing by livestock or
prairie dogs. Average bare ground cover in studies of plover territories ranged from 17% to
100%. They will also nest in areas with low, sparse shrubs. Plovers will forage and nest in
agricultural fields that are bare or contain short vegetation, but will abandon the nests if the
vegetation grows too tall (i.e., above about 5 cm; 2 in).
Ecology: Birds arrive in Colorado in March, and young fledge in June and July; most birds have
left the state by the end of September. Plovers winter in southern California, and southern Texas
into northern Mexico. The breeding season diet consists largely of beetles, but also includes
grasshoppers, crickets, and ants. Although plovers often nest near water sources, they may be
attracted to the low vegetation structure created by concentrations of livestock rather than to the
Management Issues and Conservation Recommendations: Having evolved in the company of
grazing ungulates and prairie dogs, this species benefits from the bare ground and sparse
vegetation conditions created by prairie dogs, grazing cattle, or prescribed burns. Encourage
public land managers and private landowners to retain populations of prairie dogs at levels
compatible with economic activities on the land. Graze at moderate to heavy levels in summer
or late winter, or implement prescribed burns, to produce suitable habitat. Recreate the
landscape mosaic historically produced by wandering herds of bison by interspersing areas of
varying grazing intensities, including areas where no grazing occurs, and rotating rested
pastures. Avoid planting taller grasses, as on CRP land, which precludes plover use of those
Disturbance due to oil and gas exploration, water well development, and other similar activities is
detrimental to plovers during the nesting season; such activities are restricted in certain areas
during April through June in Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah. Some individuals will reuse nest
sites in subsequent years. Protect known nest sites from disturbance.
Status and Reasons for Concern: This species has a high conservation need locally and
throughout its range. It is on the national Watch List. A petition has been filed to list Mountain
Plovers for protection under the Endangered Species Act. It is a USFS Sensitive Species in
Region 2, and a CDOW Species of Special Concern. Most (55.4%) of this species' total
population occurs within this physiographic area, indicating that this area has the highest
responsibility for the species' conservation. Within the Central Shortgrass Prairie, BBS data do
not show a statistically significant annual rate of change between 1969 and 1996 (P = 0.93; n = 16
routes). However, BBS data from 1966-1996 demonstrate a significant survey-wide annual rate
of decline (-2.7%; P = 0.02; n = 33 routes). Mountain Plovers were present on an average of
21.82% (SE = 1.96) of the BBS routes run in Physiographic Area 36 in Colorado during
1988-1997, at an average abundance of 0.84 (SE = 0.15) individuals per route. The mean
number of routes run each year was 29.2 (SE = 2.28). This species is monitored by MCB with
Biological Objective: Increase the species' distribution and abundance, based upon results from
the BBS, MCB, and other monitoring programs.
Selected References: Andrews and Righter 1992; Graul 1973, 1975; Johnson et al. 1998;
Kingery 1998; Knopf 1996a; Knopf and Rupert 1996; Knowles et al. 1982.