Mountain Plovers

The only thing "mountain" about mountain plovers is that they summer and breed in the Mountain Time Zone.  Preferring short-grass prairie and other flatlands with sparse vegetation, they nest on the High Plains, from southernmost Canada to eastern New Mexico and West Texas; small populations have also been found in Utah.

Soon after arriving on the High Plains in spring, mountain plovers pair off and scoop out a number of shallow depressions, one of which is eventually used for the nest.  As with most "shorebirds," the young are active soon after hatching and hunt for insects with their parents.  Those hoping to encounter mountain plovers are advised to drive along graveled country roads of the High Plains, especially in the National Grassland areas; since they prefer sparse vegetation, these birds are often best found in and around prairie dog colonies.  Rather tame, they seldom fly off as your vehicle approaches, preferring to run away or flatten themselves against the stark terrain to avoid detection; among their natural enemies are prairie falcons, Swainson's hawks, swift fox, coyotes and rattlesnakes.  Challenged by loss of prairie habitat, mountain plovers have adapted to the presence of cattle (surrogates for the great bison herds) and are not officially listed as a threatened species by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Come fall, mountain plovers head for wintering grounds in the valleys of California or in desert grasslands of southern Arizona, northern Mexico or West Texas; those that breed in southern regions of the High Plains may not migrate if insects and other terrestrial invertebrates remain available.  Since they tend to wander about during the autumn migration, it is then that they may turn up in unexpected habitat or distant from their usual range.