Greater sand plover

Charadrius leschenaultii Lesson, 1826

Order: Charadriiformes

Family: Charadriidae

New Zealand status: Native

Conservation status: Vagrant

Other names: greater sand dotterel, large sand dotterel, large-billed sand plover, great sand plover, greater sandplover

Geographical variation: Three races recognised: columbinus, crassirostris, leschenaultii, with leschenaultii occurring in New Zealand.

Greater sand plover. Nonbreeding adult. Awarua Bay, September 2016. Image © Paul Sorrell by Paul Sorrell

Greater sand plover. Nonbreeding adult. Awarua Bay, September 2016. Image © Paul Sorrell by Paul Sorrell

The two sand plovers (lesser and greater) are notoriously difficult birds to identify correctly. They are both between a banded dotterel and a New Zealand dotterel in size, but both are plain grey-brown above and white below in non-breeding plumage, compared to more mottled warm brown and often buff or reddish brown underparts of the New Zealand birds. Important characters to separate the two sand plovers include overall size, leg length, bill size and shape, and head shape. The greater sand plover is the larger in all parameters, with a more angular (cf. rounded) head shape, and a more bulbous tip to the bill.

Identification

Most greater sand plovers seen in New Zealand are in non-breeding plumage when they are grey-brown above and white below with a dark partial breast band, and a mainly brown face with a slight pale eyebrow stripe. The underwing is mainly white, and the upperwing has a prominent white wingbar. The bill is long, dark and heavy, with a bulbous tip, and the long legs are greenish-brown.

In breeding plumage, greater sand plovers have a chestnut breast band, and a white face and forehead with black brow and eye stripe.

Voice: a soft trill.

Similar species: New Zealand dotterel is slightly larger and bulkier, with relatively shorter legs. Most birds have orange-brown suffused underparts, but juveniles can be as pale as greater sand plovers. Lesser sand plover is smaller but similarly coloured. In breeding plumage it usually has a thin black line separating the chestnut breast band from the white throat; bill of greater sand plover is larger and heavier than that of lesser. Adult banded dotterels have a thin black band on the lower neck and a chestnut band across the upper breast, these being separated by a band of white. Juvenile banded dotterels are yellowish on the face and nape, in contrast to the cleaner white of the two sand plovers.

Detailed information on the complexities of separating greater and lesser sand plovers is given by Hirschfeld et al. (2000).

Distribution and habitat

The race C.l. leschenaultii that occurs in New Zealand, breeds in western China, southern Mongolia and southern Siberia and spends the non-breeding season in Australasia. It breeds in desert and semi-desert areas up to 3,000 m. In the non-breeding season it occurs along coasts, favouring areas with firm substrates.

Population

One or two greater sand plovers are recorded in New Zealand most summers with records distributed from the Far North to Southland. The East Asian-Australasian Flyway population is estimated at about 79,000 birds.

Threats and conservation   

Only small numbers migrate through the Yellow Sea, most move further to the West, through Southeast Asia and southern China. It appears that the population is declining, probably as a result of habitat loss and degradation.

Breeding

The nest is a shallow scrape in the ground and usually 3 eggs are laid.

Behaviour and ecology

Characteristic plover feeding behaviour – stands and watches then runs, stops, pecks. This behaviour means that greater sand plovers favour relatively firm substrates, not soft mud.

Food

Greater sand plovers feed on a variety of intertidal invertebrates during the non-breeding season, particularly crabs.

Weblinks  

http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/speciesfactsheet.php?id=3139

http://www.environment.gov.au/cgi-bin/sprat/public/publicspecies.pl?taxon_id=877

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greater_Sandplover

http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/speciesfactsheet.php?id=3139

References

Barter, M. 2002. Shorebirds of the Yellow Sea: importance, threats and conservation status. Wetlands International Global Series 9. Downloadable at: http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/migratory/publications/yellow-sea/index.html

del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J. (eds) 1996. Handbook of birds of the world. Vol. 3, hoatzin to auks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

Heather, B.D.; Robertson, H.A. 2005. The field guide to the birds of New Zealand. 2nd edition. Penguin, Rosedale, Auckland.

Hirschfeld, E.; Rolselaar, C.S.; Shirihai, H. 2000. Identification, taxonomy and distribution of greater and lesser sand plovers. British Birds 93: 162-189. Downloadable at: http://www.californiabirds.org/members/SandPlover.pdf

Marchant, S.; Higgins, P.J. (eds) 1993. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic birds. Vol. 2, raptors to lapwings. Oxford University Press, Melbourne.

Wetlands International 2012. Waterbird Population Estimates. Retrieved from wpe.wetlands.org on Wednesday 18 Jul 2012.

Recommended citation

Melville, D.S. 2013. Greater sand plover. In Miskelly, C.M. (ed.) New Zealand Birds Online. www.nzbirdsonline.org.nz

Greater sand plover

Breeding season
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Egg laying dates
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Greater sand plover

Breeding season
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Egg laying dates
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
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  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun