Shorebirds, Pacific Northwest
The Semipalmated Plover is a small bird with a short bill and yellow legs. Its beak is almost all black in juveniles but gets a yellow base as the bird matures. They have brown upperparts with white below and a dark band across the breast. The breast band, sides and top of the head are black in breeding adults, and brown in non breeding adults and juveniles.
Semipalmated Plovers inhabit Pacific Northwest coastal mudflats and exposed sandy beaches during the winter months. They breed in the Arctic building their nests on gravel bars along rivers and ponds.
On the coast, the plovers feed on a mix of crustaceans and other small shoreline creatures. On the breeding grounds they mostly feed on insects. They can be seen walking or running with their heads up, then stopping with head tilted looking for food. When they stop, they seem to just fade into their surroundings.
The males arrive on the breeding grounds before the female and they will establish a nesting territory. When the females arrive, the males perform to attract a mate during courtship. They do a flight dance called a butterfly flight. After the male and female bond, the male constructs a scrape nest in sand or gravel and lines it with material found nearby. The female will lay up to four eggs, both spend nearly equal time incubating the eggs. The chicks are quite capable at feeding themselves within hours of hatching but the adults tend to them for about two weeks. The females then leave and the males stay on until the young fledge.
Semipalmated Plovers migrate along the Pacific Northwest coast heading north in the spring and return again along the coast in the fall. I love watching these little birds run up and down the beach following the waves as they search for food.