‘CHECK OUT THE WEB’: SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS ON ABACO
“Semipalmated”. You what? Come again? Ehhhh? My reactions to the word until embarrassingly recently. In fact until the steep learning curve involved in writing a bird book made
some all of the terminology clearer. Plovers and sandpipers both have semipalmated versions, and I’ll take the semipalmated plover (Charadrius semipalmatus) first.
WHAT SHOULD I LOOK FOR?
A small shorebird with a grey-brown back and wings, a white underside with a single black neck band, and orange legs. They have a brown cap, a white forehead, a black eye mask and a short black bill with an orange base to it. And feet to be discussed below.
WHERE DO THEY LIVE?
Their summer home and breeding habitat is on the beaches and flats of northern Canada and Alaska. They nest in scrapes on the ground right out in the open. In the Autumn these little birds set off on long journeys south to warmer climes until Spring: the coasts of the southern states, Caribbean and South America. On Abaco, they are fairly common in certain areas including the beach at Delphi. Like other plovers, these birds are gregarious and will mix in with other shorebirds – which can make them hard to pick out in the crowd.
GET ON WITH THE ‘SEMIPALMATED’ BIT, PLEASE
‘Semipalmated’ refers to the partial webbing between their toes. There are different degrees of palmation, as these handy graphics demonstrate:
Semipalmate: in practice, very hard so see in the field e.g. plovers & sandpipers
Palmate: full webbing across the ‘front’ 3 toes, e.g. gulls
Totipalmate: all toes are fully webbed e.g. cormorants
Nonpalmate: please supply own imagination
Gregarious flight: there are sandpipers in the mix (clue: long bills)
WHAT DO THESE BIRDS EAT?
Semipalmated plovers are much like any other small shorebird foraging on beaches and foreshores. They eat insects, crustaceans and worms. Here is a bird in a promising place for its preferred diet.
ANYTHING ELSE TO LOOK OUT FOR?
Like other plover species – Wilson’s and Killdeer for example – a semipalmated will use the ‘broken wing’ ploy to lure a predator away from a nest and the eggs or chicks in it. As it flops about pathetically on the sand looking vulnerable, it actually moves gradually further away from the nest. If it comes to the crunch it is able to take wing rapidly, leaving a very puzzled predator behind.
Semipalmated plovers flying with 2 sandpipers
Credits: Alex Hughes (1, 6, 9, 10); Woody Bracey (2, 3); Tony Hepburn (4); Charles Skinner (5); Bruce Hallett (7); D Gordon E Robertson (8); Bird foot infographics people.eku.edu