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Mountain Plover (Charadrius montanus)


11.1 Recovery Feasibility

In Canada, the Mountain Plover is at the northern periphery of its range. Breeding pairs are, and likely always have been, extremely rare and highly localized. It is unknown if the Mountain Plover can ever have a viable and self-sustaining population in Canada; however, it should be possible to maintain the small and possibly sporadic occurrence of this species. Recovery is feasible because 1) there is still an existing population of plovers; 2) there is sufficient suitable habitat available to support nesting Mountain Plovers; 3) significant threats to the species or its habitat can be mitigated; and 4) there is no reason to believe that the techniques for recovery would not be effective.

11.2 Recovery Goal

The recovery goal for the Mountain Plover is to maintain its recent abundance and distribution in southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan. A more quantitative goal is precluded by the paucity of information on Mountain Plover abundance in Canada.

11.3 Recovery Objectives

Objective 1: Conserve significant habitat areas through management, stewardship, and conservation agreements.

Objective 2: Increase awareness of Mountain Plovers, their needs, their status, and threats to their survival.

11.4 Research and Management Activities

A description of the research and management activities recommended to meet the recovery objectives and address the identified threats is provided in Table 1. A forthcoming action plan will provide more detailed information on an implementation schedule and the actions necessary to meet recovery objectives. A number of these actions have been recommended in previous management plans (Wershler 1989, 1990) and in reports on habitat and population surveys (Wershler and Wallis 2001, 2002).

11.4.1 Broad Strategies to Address Threats

·         Grassland management

o       if required, implement grazing strategies and/or prescribed burning to manage vegetation height in Mountain Plover breeding areas

o       if required, encourage establishment of native grass species in preference to exotic species

·         Habitat alteration

o       initiate and develop stewardship agreements to protect and enhance current breeding locations

o       encourage landowners to protect areas with nesting Mountain Plovers

·         Loss of prairie dogs and ground squirrels

o       encourage landowners and land managers to maintain black-tailed prairie dogs and Richardson’s Ground Squirrels in areas of suitable Mountain Plover habitat

·         Human disturbance

o       determine safe distances for disturbances, developments, and associated activities away from Mountain Plover breeding habitat

o       implement and enforce these safe distance guidelines

o       protect breeding grounds from human disturbances by encouraging people to use designated travel routes around Mountain Plover habitat and reduce the amount of motorized traffic off trails

o       limit pesticide applications near Mountain Plover breeding sites

·         Fluctuations in precipitation

o       although it is not possible to adjust precipitation levels on a regional scale, there are some opportunities to address the vegetative responses resulting from changes in precipitation, including mowing, grazing, or burning vegetation when height and cover become unsuitable for Mountain Plovers

Table 1. Suggested research and management activities to effect recovery of Mountain Plover in Canada 

PriorityObjective No.Broad strategyThreat(s) addressed
Recommended research/management activities
Urgent1 ·  Monitor and inventory·  None

·  conduct annual or biennial surveys in traditional breeding areas and in habitats with high suitability

·  conduct surveys across a wider range of habitats once every five years

·  when nesting birds are discovered, gather information on factors associated with habitat use

Necessary1·  Habitat evaluation and management

·  Grassland management

·  Habitat alteration

·  Loss of prairie dogs / ground squirrels

·  Fluctuations in precipitation

·  evaluate habitat where known breeding has occurred, and determine characteristics of preferred breeding habitat (see Wershler and Wallis 2001)

·  determine key habitat areas and prioritize compatible land uses at each site

·  if a need exists, develop adaptive management strategies and stewardship agreements to protect and enhance current and recent breeding locations

·  if required, implement plans to manage for short vegetation, including intensive livestock grazing in strategic areas at strategic times (Knowles and Knowles 1998), prescribed burning, and maintaining and enhancing colonies of prairie dogs and ground squirrels (see Dechant et al. 1998), while considering the implications on other species

·  if a need exists, encourage establishment of native shortgrass prairie species in preference to taller exotic grasses

·  identify and protect critical habitat

Necessary1 & 2·  Manage active nests

·  Human disturbances


·  implement protective measures to limit pesticide application during the breeding season in areas near Mountain Plover nests

·  around nesting areas, encourage landowners to leave cultivated areas unplanted until plover eggs have hatched

·  minimize travel routes used within Mountain Plover habitat, and reduce detrimental motorized traffic

·  determine a safe distance for birdwatchers/naturalists, developments, and developmental activities away from Mountain Plover breeding habitat

·  implement and enforce safe distance guidelines

Beneficial2·  Increase public awareness

·  Grassland management

·  Habitat alteration

·  Loss of prairie dogs

·  develop and distribute media products and educational materials to landowners/land managers in the communities within the range of the Mountain Plover to inform the public about the Mountain Plover and its status, to solicit observations, and to inform people of the surveys being conducted

·  illustrate differences between the Mountain Plover and similar species, e.g., Killdeer

11.5 Critical Habitat

The Species at Risk Act defines critical habitat as “the habitat that is necessary for the survival or recovery of a listed wildlife species and that is identified as the species’ critical habitat in the recovery strategy or in an action plan for the species” (Subsection 2(1)).

Critical habitat is not identified in this recovery strategy.

This species is relatively unstudied in Canada. There have been only 44 reported observations of this species since 1874, and there have been only 16 reported nesting sites in the past 25 years. With such limited information, it is not possible to identify critical habitat at this time.

Critical habitat will be identified through activities outlined in 2.5.1 (Schedule of Studies to Identify Critical Habitat) and will be proposed in a forthcoming action plan and/or a revised recovery strategy.

11.5.1 Schedule of Studiesto Identify Critical Habitat

Studies to identify critical habitat will be concentrated within two geographic areas (Figure 3):

·         Grasslands National Park area

o       Wershler and Wallis (2001) identified four areas considered highly suitable for Mountain Plovers in the Grasslands National Park area of southwestern Saskatchewan; one is located in Grasslands National Park, and three are on adjacent private and public land. All four areas are associated with black-tailed prairie dog colonies.

·         Lost River – Wildhorse – Govenlock area

o       The Lost River area has suitable nesting habitat on and around Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Onefour Research Substation in southeastern Alberta.

o       Wershler and Wallis (2001) identified areas around the Wildhorse–Govenlock area as being of high suitability, including the southwestern corner of Saskatchewan, the southeastern corner of Alberta, and along Highway 21 south of Govenlock, Saskatchewan.

Broad studies and actions to support the identification of critical habitat are outlined in Table 1. This section outlines specific studies and actions necessary to identify critical habitat:

·         By 2007, establish and implement a monitoring protocol such that species abundance and distribution can be accurately recorded and meaningful population trends can be calculated.

·         By 2009, identify habitat features (e.g., using a resource selection model) associated with significant use by Mountain Plovers.

·         By 2009, apply knowledge of significant habitat features to all areas within the breeding range to guide survey activities.

·         By 2009, use synthesized information on abundance, distribution, and habitat use to identify critical habitat within an action plan and/or revised recovery strategy.

11.6 Effects on Other Species

Recovery actions resulting from this strategy could potentially affect other species at risk that occur within the range of Mountain Plovers. Actions that reduce grass height and grass cover might be beneficial to species such as Burrowing Owls (Athene cunicularia), Ferruginous Hawks (Buteo regalis), Long-billed Curlews (Numenius americanus), swift fox (Vulpes velox), and/or black-tailed prairie dogs, as well as rare plants and invertebrates (Wershler 2000). However, these actions could be detrimental to species such as Greater Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus), Baird’s Sparrow (Ammodramus bairdii), Sprague’s Pipit (Anthus spragueii), and Upland Sandpiper (Bartramia longicauda) (Wallis 1987). It is necessary to ensure that the habitat needs of all species at risk can be met; therefore, cooperation and coordination between recovery actions aimed at various species will be important in identifying and managing potential conflicts. Actions aimed at Mountain Plovers are likely to have minimal population-level effects on other species because of the small range and very limited areas occupied by plovers.

11.7 Action Plan Timeline

The Action Plan(s) for the Mountain Plover will be completed by June 2009. Steps to achieve recovery will be ongoing in the interim.