Black-Bellied Plover

Pluvialis squatarola
Range Map

The Black-Bellied Plover breeds farther north than any other plover, and is the largest of all plovers. To meet these birds on their breeding grounds, one would have to travel to the northern limits of the Asian or North American Continents, though some of their population summer along the Bering Sea in western Alaska.

There is some disagreement about the status of Black-Bellied Plover subspecies. Some scientists believe the species is monotypic (i.e. no subspecies), while others suggest there are three subspecies. The three proposed subspecies are:

  • P. s. squatarola breeds in Europe, Asia, and Alaska.
  • P. s. cynosurae breeds in North America except Alaska.
  • P. s. tomkovichi breeds on Wrangel Island in northern Siberia.

Commonly found wintering along the coast of the lower 48 states in the USA, these birds are at home on all continents except Antarctica. Black-Bellied Plovers do not breed until they are two years old. In Southern California, and many places where these birds spend winters, we find non-breeding birds year-round.

Outside of North America, people call this bird the Gray Plover, or Grey Tarambola. Believing that large plovers flocked during rain, early scientists gave them the name of their genus Pluvialis, from the Latin word pluvia, meaning “rain”.

Photographing these shorebirds requires patience. Often shy, Black-Bellied Plovers will usually keep their distance from bipedal mammals. I’ve had my best luck while remaining stationary, sitting quietly and letting these birds come to me. It is a time-consuming process, and it doesn’t always work.

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