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News & events

Black-bellied Plovers Complete Annual Cycle

July 8, 2016

By Fletcher Smith, Center for Conservation Biology

Three black-bellied plovers have been tracked from their wintering grounds back to their breeding grounds, completing the annual cycle of this species.  These birds were originally tagged on Bathurst Island during the breeding season of 2015 by The Center for Conservation Biology and Canadian Wildlife Service staff.  These birds were tracked to a broad range of wintering locations, and recently migrated back to their breeding grounds.  This annual migration cycle of black-bellies was previously unknown and the study has begun to shed light on the behaviors and habitats of the plovers. 

The locations of the wintering grounds were somewhat surprising in that the plovers were spread along a 40 degree longitudinal gradient of the tropics (from Honduras to Brazil).  The majority (78%) of tracked shorebirds showed little variability in wintering location, especially in one breeding population/area.  This large winter range suggests that black-bellied plovers may be able to withstand local and potentially large scale pressures better than other shorebird species that concentrate in large numbers in narrow migration corridors (i.e. Whimbrel, Lesser Yellowlegs).

The plovers arrived on stopover grounds near Swanquarter, North Carolina, in Beaufort, South Carolina, and the north shore of Lake Erie, near Windsor, Ontario, in late April and early May.  One plover flew non-stop 3,400 miles from Brazil to North Carolina in roughly five days, which is both amazing and now expected.  After three weeks of feeding and resting at those stopover sites, the plovers were back on the wing, stopping along Lake Manitoba, and in the far northern reaches of Northwest Territories and Nunavut, Canada.  These stops lasted between a week and ten days with the pull of the breeding season winning out.  All three plovers arrived on breeding grounds in early to mid-June.  Understanding the linkages between these far-flung stopover sites will be critical in conservation of these and other shorebirds moving forward.

The Canadian Wildlife Service crew is back at Bathurst Island this summer and hopefully they observe good nesting success from the tracked plovers and the other birds of Bathurst Island.  The satellite tracking of black-bellied plovers is a collaborative effort between The Center for Conservation Biology at the College of William & Mary and Virginia Commonwealth University and the Canadian Wildlife Service, who initiated the tracking project in 2014. Logistical support for the Bathurst Island field expedition was provided by the Polar Continental Shelf Program in Resolute, Nunavut.  The tracking of the plovers is an ongoing project and the birds can be followed at Seaturtle.org.    

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NOa3GV3722M

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