The latest addition to our Birds & Shores exhibit is a male black-bellied plover, who came to us from the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, CA. He was introduced to the sandy side of the exhibit in late February, joining the killdeer, and is acclimating well.
The black-bellied plover, Pluvialis squatarola, is the largest plover in North America—with stocky stature, long, pointed wings, and a short, thick bill. During the winter months, these birds are a mottled mix of gray and black on their backs with white undersides. Breeding males molt into vivid white on the crowns of their heads, with a distinguishing solid black on their throats, breasts and upper bellies (the feature for which they are named). Breeding females show quite a bit more variation in color but never achieve the vivid contrast of the males. All plumages show a characteristic white rump, tail and wing stripe, along with distinctive black axillaries in the “wing-pits” which are visible during flight or outstretched movement. Fun fact: the black-bellied plover is the only American plover that has a hind toe on its feet—although this feature is extremely difficult to see in the bird’s natural environment.
Black-bellied plovers spend the winter on coastal beaches and estuaries, and breed in the lowland areas of the Arctic tundra. They forage primarily by sight with the “stop-run-peck” strategy that is characteristic of all plover species (and different from the probing strategy of sandpipers). Their winter diet includes invertebrates, bivalves and crustaceans; during breeding season, they feed primarily on insects. They are listed as “species of least concern” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Find out more about the black-bellied plover during your next visit to the Aquarium!