Colorado is the primary breeding ground for the mountain plover, more than half of the world's population nests in the state. Despite their name, mountain plovers do not breed in the mountains or the shore, instead, they prefer shortgrass prairies. The plovers are about eight to 9.5 inches in height, have long legs and are sandy-brown in coloration. Breeding adults have black forecrowns, white foreheads and a thin, black eyeline. In winter, adults and young birds appear with a plain face, making their dark eyes stand out. Mountain plovers have a white wing stripe and wing linings, and a black band near the tail tip.
Range: The mountain plover breeds in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, and the Texas Panhandle east to Nebraska, and winters from central California and southern Arizona southward into Mexico. In Colorado, major breeding areas exist at the Pawnee National Grasslands, representing 10 to 20 percent of the total breeding population, and in southeastern Colorado, representing 40-50 percent.
Habitat: Mountain plovers inhabit prairie grasslands, arid plains and fields. Nesting plovers choose shortgrass prairies grazed by prairie dogs, bison and cattle, and overgrazed tallgrass and fallow fields.
Diet: The birds feed singly or in small flocks, mostly on insects.
Reproduction: Plovers arrive at their Colorado breeding grounds in March. Males attract hens with a "falling leaf" flight pattern. Rocking back and forth with wings in a sharp V, they drop from 15 to 30 feet in the air. They also perform a "butterfly display" with slow, deep, wing beats. Males will conduct a ritualized nest-scraping for females. Nests are usually situated on hilltops and in dry swales, sometimes in the shelter of manure piles. Hens lay about three eggs, first on bare ground and then gradually building up a nest around the hatched eggs with rootlets and grass. Pair bonds are fleeting - females will sometimes leave the nest to the males so they can lay and incubate another clutch with a different male.
Endangered status: The mountain plover is listed as a species of special concern in Colorado. Historically, mountain plovers were considered a common resident of the eastern plains and occasional in the mountain parks of Colorado. By 1965, concern was expressed that the plovers were becoming rare over much of their breeding territories. Indicators of population trends show a possible decline of 38 to 70 percent over 31 years. While populations have declined in traditional breeding areas, additional inventories conducted since 1995 suggest that mountain plovers are more widely distributed than previously known. Threats include: conversion of native prairie grasslands to cultivation, and possibly loss of prairie dog colonies, predation from expanding swift fox populations, oil and gas exploration on National Grasslands and increasing recreation on National Grasslands.
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