Grass Plovers at Eagle Bluffs

Thanks to a heads-up from a friend and fellow birder who was arriving at Eagle Bluffs as I was leaving, I was fortunate to observe four upland sandpipers along the entry road to that fabulous floodplain refuge.  In fact, this morning's sighting was the first time that I have encountered these terrestrial shorebirds at Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area, in central Missouri.

Upland sandpipers, once known as "grass plovers" and later called "upland plovers," are summer residents of prairie grasslands across the Great Plains, Alaska, south-central Canada, the Great Lakes region and the Northeastern U.S.; east of the Mississippi, they are best found at airports or in hayfields.  Easily identified by their distinctive silhouette, upland sandpipers generally arrive on their breeding grounds in May and begin to depart for South America by mid-late July; indeed, they spend about 2/3 of the year on the grasslands of Patagonia.  Nesting on the ground, their eggs are laid in a shallow depression, dug by the parents; the precocious young begin to feed soon after birth, scouring the ground for insects.  Adults, which often perch on fenceposts, feed primarily on grasshoppers but also consume other insects and seeds.

Nearly hunted to extinction, upland sandpipers have made a significant comeback but continue to be threatened by loss of prairie habitat; while they have adapted to less pristine grasslands, their population will surely never rebound to the abundance that European settlers encountered as they first entered America's Heartland.  It was then that "grass plovers" were hunted for food and sport and the vast prairie grasslands were converted to "amber waves of grain."