Grey Plover

Pluvialis squatarola

27-30cm

Appearance

A chubby coastal wader that is distinctly marked, though the plumages differ by season, and females are slightly dissimilar to males in the summer. During summer, the underparts are a stark black and are divided from the silver and black spotted upperparts by a white band. The face and neck are black. Female's underparts are a less distinct black. Winter birds lack the black feathers and are more grey overall; the underparts are lighter, almost white, and the legs and bill are dark. Juveniles are similar to winter adults, though the plumage is buffish. Throughout the seasons, adults reveal a white wing-bar in flight, with a distinctive black patch under the wing, close to the body.

Habitat

Frequents the coasts of Britain and Ireland, though it does not nest in either region. Estuaries and sandy beaches are preferred.

Character

Birds tend to feed alone, though high tides may force them from normal feeding sites, in which case they may form flocks. Often feed at night and have a feeding action like other plovers; it runs quickly along sand or mud then halts suddenly before tilting the body and pecking prey from the ground.

Food

Diet consists mainly of cockles, other small shellfish, marine snails, lugworms, ragworms and bristle worms.

Breeding

This is not a breeding bird in the region. At breeding sites in the north, pairs scrape out a nest, and the female commonly leaves the brood when chicks are 12 days old. At this point she most likely sets out on migration; the young can fly after 35-45, at which point the male migrates.

Population

Adults depart breeding grounds in the Arctic in July and August, and the first migrants arrive in Britain in July. Juveniles arrive about a month after the first adults. A large number of birds who winter in Britain and Ireland are most likely male. This species can fly distances of 6500 km without stopping. During winter, numbers may exceed 43 000 individuals in the UK and a further 6000 in Ireland.

Observation Tips

Since there are tens of thousands of the birds in the region most years, this species shouldn't be too hard to find at estuaries in winter. Listen for the call, which is often the first indication of their presence.

Voice

Most usual call is a melancholy, resonant 'pee-oo-ee', likened to a human wolf whistle.
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