Birds - Black Breasted Plover
( Originally Published 1904 )
Called also: BEETLE-HEAD; SWISS PLOVER; BULL-HEAD; WHISTLING FIELD PLOVER; OX-EYE; BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER; MAY COCK
Length— 11 to 12 inches.
Male and Female—In summer : Mottled black and white; the up-per parts black bordered with white; tail white barred with black; sides of head and neck and under parts black, except lower abdomen and under tail coverts, which are white; axillars (feathers growing from armpits) black. Short bill and the feet and legs black; a small hind toe. In winter: Similar, except that upper parts are brownish gray lightly edged with white, and under parts are mixed black and white; but numerous intermediate stages occur, and the plumage is most variable. Immature birds have black upper parts, the head and neck streaked and the back spotted with buff or yellow brown; the breast and sides streaked with brownish gray.
Range—Almost cosmopolitan; nests in Arctic regions, and winters from southern United States to the West Indies and Brazil.
Season—Spring and autumn migrant; May, June; August to October; more abundant in autumn.
Crescent shaped flocks of black-breasted plover, launched on a journey from one end of our continent to the other, come out of the south in May; and following routes through the interior, as well as along the coasts, make short stops only on the way to nest in the Arctic regions. They are now restless, as most birds are in spring. Large and stout for plovers, distinctly black and white while the nesting plumage is worn, there is less danger of confusing them now than in the autumn migration, when immature birds, especially, so closely resemble the golden plover that it is only by noting this bird's small hind toe, which no other plover owns, and the black axillars, or feathers of its armpits, so to speak, where the golden plover is smoky gray, that the sports-man can positively tell which bird he has bagged. It has been said that these plovers migrate in wedge shaped ranks and lines like ducks and geese, which may often be the case, but not al-ways or usual, we think. A cresent shaped flock, the horns pointing sometimes forward, sometimes backward, seems to be the preferred form of flight. Long, perfect wings, a full, slow wing stroke, and a light body are a combination well calculated to discount distance.
Arctic travellers have brought back clutches of three or four pointed eggs that vary greatly in color, ranging between light yellowish olive or dark to shades of brown spotted and speckled with rufous. They have also brought back a " yarn "—or is it a fact ?—about the males sitting on the nest and doing all the incubating, while the females enjoy fin de siecle emancipation. Fluffy, precocious chicks hatched in June become expert flyers by July, and in August arrive in the United States with parents and friends in motley flocks, often no two birds of which are wearing precisely the same feathers. Having fed chiefly on berries and grasshoppers at the north, autumn birds are counted good eating; but as they have a decided preference for tide water flats and marshes where shrimps and other small marine creatures form their diet, the flesh soon becomes sedgy and unpalatable once they reach the coast. A quick strike at a particle of food about to be picked up makes these plovers appear greedy; how-ever, all their motions are quick and sudden. In running, especially, are they nimble: a sprint of a few yards, a sudden halt to reconnoitre with upstretched heads, another quick run, then a pause, are characteristic movements of most plovers, just as squatting to conceal themselves is.
Because so many young innocents which have no knowledge of men make up the autumn flocks, these respond quickly to decoys and to an imitation of their clear, mellow whistle, that penetrates to surprising distances from where the birds are circling high in air. Down they sail on motionless wings, apparently glad for any diversion in their aimless, roving life. Soft notes of contentment uttered as they drift with decurved wings and dangling legs toward the decoys are soon silenced forever by a deadly report. Twenty years ago the black-breasted and the golden plovers were abundant on the Iowa and Illinois prairies in spring and fall, but they were pursued by sportsmen so relentlessly that now a flock is seldom seen in either state. The few birds that remain seem to have chosen some other route for their migrations, in order to escape the fusilades to which they were there subjected.