Friday, August 12, 2011

Spur-winged Plover


Walking along North Street with my dog, always there are spur-winged plovers to be seen in the paddocks. There used to be two or three pairs but this winter I see just the one pair. I hope this is not a trend!



Travelling throughout New Zealand, especially through farmland, the one bird that one is most likely to see is the spur–winged plover, very often being harried by and, in turn, harrying a harrier hawk. However, spur-winged plovers did not used to be so widespread, the first pair recorded breeding at Invercargill airport in 1932. In spite of the heavy predation of their chicks by harrier hawks and our national propensity for using birds for target practice, their numbers have now become so great that there is talk of culling them. Not a good reason, I would think.

There are two well marked races of this bird; the smaller race, Vanellus miles novaehollandiae, originally just bred in the south–east of Australia but then extended its range to Tasmania and New Zealand. The other, northern, race, Vanellus miles miles, has extended its range from northern Australia to New Guinea.

Both races frequent wet grasslands but will readily adapt to man–made habitats such as pastures, sports grounds, airfields and even median strips on busy roads. Indeed, one will often see them on median strips while driving to Wellington. Somehow they seem to have worked out that their chicks will be safe there from cats and harrier hawks. Their liking for airports however, is not a good idea as it leaves them open to some severe culling because of the fear of bird strike.

This large plover has a black crown, hind neck and shoulders, with the back and wings brown in colour. The underparts are white and the legs and feet are reddish. The bill is yellow and the bird has a yellow facial patch and prominent wattles. It has spurs on its wings.

The spur–winged plover feeds mainly on insects, worms and similar small invertebrates but will also eat seeds. Their main call is a loud, penetrating rattle, often heard at night which may explain why many people have grown to hate them.

Breeding is between June and late November with the peak in August. Several clutches are laid each year. The nest is a scrape in the ground, unlined or scantily lined, situated in rough open pasture, a flat wet area or on stony ground. The clutch of 1 – 4 khaki eggs with brownish, black blotches is incubated by both sexes for 30-31 days. The fledging period is 7 – 8 weeks.



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