At Good Harbor Beach – Plovers Here There and Everywhere! – Tips on How to ID Piping Plovers, Killdeers, and Semipalmated Plovers

Female Piping Plover Good Harbor Beach Gloucester copyright Kim SmithFor the past ten weeks, each morning very early before work I have been filming the Good Harbor Beach shorebirds and their habitat, and when not too tired from work, would go back again at the end of the day. For the most part, it has been a tremendously educational and rewarding experience, and I love Good Harbor and its wild creatures even more than when I began the Piping Plover project. We are so fortunate to have this incredibly beautiful and beloved treasure of a beach in our midst, and so easily accessed. As much as I have enjoyed filming the wildlife, it has been equally as fun to observe the myriad wonderful ways in which people enjoy the beach recreationally and that too is part of the Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover story.

Male Piping Plover Good Harbor Beach Gloucester copyright Kim SmithTake a closer look at the shorebirds next time you are at Good Harbor Beach. Small and swift, they can look similar, but once you begin to study their behaviors, each species becomes easier to identify.

Female Piping Plover Good Harbor Beach Gloucester Massachusetts -2 copyright Kim SmithNew female Piping Plover on the scene with very pale coloring

Good Harbor Beach is currently home to three different species of plovers. We all know about our beautiful Piping Plover family. The lone surviving chick and Dad were last seen heading deep, deep, deep into the salt marsh. Since that time, several new Piping Plovers have joined the scene, two females and a male. We can tell they are different from our original mated pair by their feather pattern and bill color.

Killdeer Chicks Good Harbor Beach Gloucester Massachusetts copyright Kim SmithEarlier in the summer, four Killdeer chicks hatched at the edge of the GHB salt marsh. It was pretty scary filming the Killdeer family because all six were running willy nilly every which way throughout the beach parking lot on a very busy weekend morning. In the next photo, taken several days ago, you can see that the family has grown rapidly.

Killdeer Family Good Harbor Beach Gloucester Massachusetts copyright Kim SmithKilldeers are the largest of the the three species of plovers seen in Massachusetts, nearly twice as large as the pocket-sized Piping Plover. That fact didn’t stop the male Piping Plover from defending its nesting territory. Notice the two dark bands around the neck and chest of the Killdeer.

Piping Plove Chasing Killdeer Good Harbor Beach Gloucester Massachusetts copyright Kim SmithHalf the size of his foe, our male Piping Plover is vigorously chasing the intruding Killdeer from his nesting territory

Killdeer Good Harbor Beach Gloucester copyright Kim SmithThe Killdeer has a dark band encircling its neck and a second band across its chest

The third species of plovers at GHB is the Semipalmated Plover. Although only slightly larger than the Piping Plover, the difference is easy to spot by the darker brown wings. Compare the single neck ring of the Semipalmated Plover to that of the Killdeer’s double set of bands. Unlike Piping Plovers and Killdeers, Semipalmated Plovers do not breed in Massachusetts but in northern Canada and Alaska. At this time of year we are observing their southward migration to the southern United States, Caribbean, and South America.

Semipalmated Plover Good Harbor Beach Gloucester Massachusetts -2 copyright Kim SmithSemipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plovers are often seen in mixed flocks with Semipalmated Sandpipers and Least Sandpipers. Semipalmated Sandpipers have black legs. Least Sandpipers have distinctly colored yellowish legs.

Semipalmated Plover Semipalmated Sandpiper Good Harbor Beach Gloucester Massachusetts copyright Kim SmithSemipalmated Plover and Semipalmated Sandpipers

Least Sandpiper Good Harbor Beach Gloucester Massachusetts copyright Kim SmithLeast Sandpiper

Note that all of the shorebirds mentioned here are also currently at Wingaersheek Beach.

2 thoughts on “At Good Harbor Beach – Plovers Here There and Everywhere! – Tips on How to ID Piping Plovers, Killdeers, and Semipalmated Plovers

  1. Emily Weissblum Smith

    Kim, your dedication and expertise are such a gift to us all. Email containing your posts are the first ones I open. Thank you so very much for sharing your work with us.

    Like

    Reply

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