Caspian plover (Charadrius asiaticus)

French: Pluvier asiatique
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderCharadriiformes
FamilyCharadriidae
GenusCharadrius (1)
SizeLength: 18 - 22 cm (2)
Wingspan: 55 - 61 cm (3)
Bill length: 1.8 – 2.4 cm (4)
Weight55 - 61 g (3)

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The Caspian plover is a slim, upright bird with long, thin legs which allow it to wade in shallow water, and a black, narrow, pointed bill which allows it to pick small invertebrates from the ground. The plumage of the Caspian plover varies between the sexes. The male has a brilliant white forehead, throat and underparts, which stand out against the sandy-brown upper body and tail (4), and a rusty red breast which is bordered by a narrow, black band (4). The female, on the other hand, has a greyish, yellow breast and lacks the black breast band (4). During the winter months the plumage of both the males and the females becomes darker, as many of the white feathers are replaced by sandy-brown feathers. The plumage of the juvenile Caspian plover largely resembles the adults’ winter plumage, apart from a few of the wing feathers which have flashes of yellow around the edges (3). The Caspian plover is often silent, but can give a clear, whistling call (5).

The Caspian plover breeds in central Asia, mostly aggregating towards the north and the east of the Caspian Sea (6). It migrates vast distances during the winter to the more temperate climates of east and south-east Africa, which can be up to 6,000 miles from its breeding grounds, and is regularly seen in Iran, Iraq and around the Red Sea where it stops off to rest during its long migration (3). Once the Caspian plover has reached Africa, its main wintering sites are the upland plains of Kenya and Tanzania (3). It returns to the breeding grounds between March and April in the spring of the following year (3). Very occasionally the Caspian plover may be seen in Europe or Australasia (6).  

The Caspian plover breeds in desert and desert steppe habitats, amongst sparse shrub vegetation near water,at altitudes of up to about 800 metres (6). It is predominantly associated with salt water habitats such as salt-pans, saline soils partial to seasonal flooding and inland salt marches (6). During the non-breeding season in Africa, it is often found far from water on recently burnt or heavily grazed grassland, dry floodplains, ploughed cultivated land and coastal dunes (6).

The Caspian plover feeds mainly on adult and larval insects present in grassland or arable pastures(3). This includes beetles, ants, caterpillars and flies (6). In the non-breeding season it is often found in urban areas, hunting for its invertebrate prey in refuse heaps(3).

During the breeding season, the Caspian plover builds a nest that is a scraped indentation on the groundamongst loose vegetation, intricately lined with grass and small stones (7). Into the nest the female will typically lay three eggs(3),between the months of April and May of each year (7). Both parents contribute to the incubation of the eggs for around 30 days (6), with the female incubating during the day and the male during the night. The eggs will hatch between early May and June and the juveniles are fully capable of flight around a month after hatching (7). Building a nest on the ground means that Caspian plover eggs and chicks are vulnerable to predation. Many species that are closely related to the Caspian plover have evolved a variety of behavioural traits to defend their young from predators, such as adults pretending to have a broken wing in order to draw predators away from the nest (8); however, it is not clear whether the Caspian plover undertakes such ‘distraction displays’.

After the breeding season, the Caspian plover travels in flocks of five to ten birds to its wintering sites. Once there, it can be found in flocks of up to several hundred individuals (3).

The main threat to the Caspian plover is the destruction of the natural steppe and grassland habitats in which it breeds, as a result of overgrazing and conversion to intensive agricultural practices (3). While this appears to be causing populations numbers to decline, these declines are not yet significant enough for his species to be considered threatened (1).

Although the population size of the Caspian plover is decreasing year on year, its numbers are still relatively high (3), and therefore there are currently no specific conservation measures known to be in place for this bird.

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This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
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  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2010)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. Sinclair, I., Hockey, P. and Arlott, N. (2005) The Larger Illustrated Guide to Birds of Southern Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
  3. Del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargata, J. (1996) Handbook of Birds of the World, Volume 3: Hoatzin to Auks. Lynx Editions, Barcelona.
  4. Gavrilov, E.I. and Gavrilov, A.E. (2005) The Birds of Kazakhstan. Almaty, Kazakhstan.
  5. Sinclair, I. and Davidson, I. (2006) Southern African Birds: A Photographic Guide. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
  6. BirdLife International (March, 2010)
    http://www.birdlife.org
  7. Birds of Kazakhstan (November, 2009)
    http://www.birds.kz/Charadrius%20asiaticus/indexe.html
  8. Baker, A.J. (2007) Plover. The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Foundation, Canada.