Birds – Wilson’s Plover

(AEgialitis wilsonia)

Length—7.50 inches.

Male and Female—Upper parts ashy brown, tinged on nape and sides of head with chestnut ; forehead and under parts white, the white of throat passing around like a collar, and the white of forehead running backward in a line over each eye to nape; lores, front of crown, and a band across the breast black in male, brownish gray in female; inner tail feathers dark olive, the outer ones becoming white. Bill large, stout, and black; no colored eye ring; legs flesh colored. Immature birds look like mother, but have upper parts margined with gray or white, more closely resembling dry sand, if possible, than do the adults.

Range—America, nesting from Virginia southward; winters south to Central and South America; common on south Atlantic and Gulf beaches and California.

Season—Summer resident; a few winter in the south.

A beach bird in the strictest sense, Wilson’s plover is never found inland, but close beside tide water on the mud flats that furnish a fresh menu at each ebbing; or on the dry sand beyond the reach of the surf, where its plumage, in wonderful mimicry of

its surroundings, conceals it perfectly. In the short, sparse grass of the upper beaches, a brooding bird that knows enough to keep still in the presence of a passer-by, runs little risk of detection. The three clay colored eggs, evenly and rather finely spotted and speckled with brown, that are laid directly on the sand, require little incubating, however, beyond what the sunshine gives them; but the parents never stroll so far away from their treasures that they may not return instantly danger threatens and run or swoop about the visitor, imploring retreat. Gentle, unsuspicious manners give these birds half their charm. Their grace of motion, another characteristic, suffers little by comparison with that of the terns not infrequently found nesting among them. On the ground all plovers excel in sprightliness; every movement is quick and free; and on the wing, also, these describe all manner of exquisite evolutions, half turning in the air to show now the upper, now the under side of the bodies; now sailing on long, decurved, motionless wings; now hovering an instant before alighting, stretching their wing tips high above the back—a beautiful posture that the terns have evidently copied.

Quite closely resembling the semipalmated plover in plumage, this species may always be known by its large, heavy bill, the largest, in proportion to the size of the bird, any plover has, and by the absence of a bright eye ring that, with the partial webbing of its toes, are the ring-neck’s diagnostic features. Small flocks of Wilson’s plover reach Long Island every summer, but rarely touch the New England coast. The morsel of flesh on its plump little breast should seem not worth the hunting by healthy men, whose appetites need no coaxing. One who little under-stands the ways of gunners might think a bird smaller than a robin would suffer little persecution.

Dr. Coues describes this plover’s note as half a whistle, half a chirp, quite different from the other plovers’ calls; but a plaintive quality can be detected in it, too, as in the voices of most beach birds, that reflect something of the mystery and sadness of the sea. In his lines to “The Little Beach Bird,” that are applicable to a dozen species, Richard Henry Dana emphasizes the contrast between the joyous songs of land birds and the melancholy, plaintive strains of those that live along the sea.