Chestnut-banded plover (Charadrius pallidus)

Also known as: chestnut-banded sandplover
French: Pluvier élégant
GenusCharadrius (1)
SizeLength: 15 cm (2)
Top facts

The chestnut-banded plover is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The chestnut-banded plover (Charadrius pallidus) is a small African wetland bird which is named for the narrow, chestnut-coloured band across its breast (2) (3) (4). This band joins a chestnut line which runs across the front of the head (2) (5), and it distinguishes the chestnut-banded plover from other species of the same genus which inhabit similar regions (2).

In addition to this striking colouration, the chestnut-banded plover is adorned with a bright white forehead, throat and belly and a greyish-brown back (2) (5). Fine black lines extend from the male chestnut-banded plover’s beak to its eyes (2) (3) (4) (5), and there is also a small black marking on the forehead (3) (4) (5). However, these black markings are absent in the female (4) (5). Both the male and female chestnut-banded plover have a black bill and relatively long black legs (2).

Immature chestnut-banded plovers have a duller or sometimes incomplete breast band, which is greyish rather than chestnut. The immature birds also lack any black markings on the head (4) (5).

Two geographically separate groups of chestnut-banded plovers exist and each one is considered a subspecies. The subspecies Charadrius pallidus pallidus is larger than Charadrius pallidus venustus, and its plumage is paler and greyer on the upperparts (5).

The chestnut-banded plover gives a sharp ‘pii’ or ‘tooit’ call (3) (4), as well as a complex series of trilled, nasal-sounding notes during the breeding season (4).

Although overall the chestnut-banded plover inhabits a large range, spanning many regions of Africa, the total area it occupies is thought to be very low. The subspecies C. p. pallidus inhabits southern Africa, occurring in Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. However, C. p. venustus is found in the Rift Valley in East Africa, inhabiting only Kenya and Tanzania (2).

Three sites, specifically Walvis Bay and Sandwich Harbour in Namibia and Lake Natron in Tanzania, have been known to contain 87 percent of the total population of chestnut-banded plovers during the non-breeding season (6).

The chestnut-banded plover has quite specific habitat requirements, which means that the types of environments in which it can survive are limited and explains why this bird occupies a small total area. Saline and alkaline waters and areas devoid of vegetation are preferred habitats of this species (2).

During its breeding season, the chestnut-banded plover remains close to bodies of water, occupying natural and man-made wetlands. This small plover breeds around large alkaline lakes and salt pans, as well as around lagoons and estuarine salt marshes in coastal regions. Throughout the breeding period, the chestnut-banded plover is typically found no further than 50 metres from the water’s edge. However, during non-breeding periods this bird is often found up to a kilometre away from water. During this season it predominantly inhabits coastal regions, including mud-flats (2).

The chestnut-banded plover is rarely found in freshwater habitats, but is able to adapt to man-made saline habitats such as salt pans (2).

It is thought that only some chestnut-banded plovers migrate, and in South Africa it is believed that the majority of the coastal populations remain in the same areas year-round (2).

The chestnut-banded plover appears to breed at the end of the rainy season. The timing of breeding varies between different locations, but is typically between March and October (2). During the breeding season, this species roosts in pairs or very small groups, and each pair defends a territory. However, larger groups of chestnut-banded plovers may roost together in the non-breeding season, and small flocks sometimes also forage together (2) (7).

Since the chestnut-banded plover largely occupies bare areas with very little foliage, its nest comprises a simple scrape in mud, soil or stony ground. This hole usually has a diameter of about five centimetres and a depth of one centimetre, and is always located close to water (2) (7).

Little is understood about the diet of the chestnut-banded plover, but it is presumed to feed upon insect larvae and small crustaceans (2).

There is currently no evidence indicating that the chestnut-banded plover population is declining. However, a number of threats may become problematic for this species in the near future (2). In particular, pollution, siltation and water abstraction are likely to affect the chestnut-banded plover at the three main sites in which it occurs (6).

Walvis Bay on the coast of Namibia, a key site for this species, is also Namibia’s largest port. Threats to the chestnut-banded plover at this site include concentrations of fish oils from local factories and other detritus flushed from ships. Siltation is also a problem due to a salt works at one end of the lagoon (2) (6).

Despite its inaccessibility and inhospitable climate, Lake Natron in Tanzania may still be affected by human activities. For example, it may suffer reduced water flow in future due to a proposed irrigation project and plans to expand a soda-extraction plant (2) (6). However, the chestnut-banded plover is quite adaptable, and may sometimes benefit from artificial, human-altered habitats such as salt works (6).

Conservation action has been implemented at the three most important sites for the chestnut-banded plover. Walvis Bay and Sandwich Harbour in Namibia and Lake Natron in Tanzania are now protected by international agreement (2) (6) (8) and are recognised as conservation priorities (2). Sandwich Harbour is also a national park, and Lake Natron is protected as a game controlled area (2) (6).

Further research has been proposed to assess the chestnut-banded plover’s resilience to changes to its habitat, and to determine whether its overall population is in decline. Efforts are also needed to further protect and prevent disturbance to and degradation of the key sites at which the chestnut-banded plover occurs (2).

Find out more about the chestnut-banded plover and its conservation:

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:

  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2012)
  2. BirdLife International - Chestnut-banded plover (November, 2012)
  3. Sinclair, I. (1997) Field Guide to the Birds of Southern Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
  4. Stevenson, T. and Fanshaw, J. (2002) Birds of East Africa. T & AD Poyser, London.
  5. Hayman, P., Marchant, J. and Prater, T. (2011) Shorebirds. A&C Black Publishers, London.
  6. Simmons, R., Baker, N., Braby, R., Dodman, T., Nasirwa, O., Tyler, S., Versfeld, W., Wearne, K. and Wheeler, M. (2007) The chestnut-banded plover is an overlooked globally Near Threatened species. Bird Conservation International, 17(3): 283-293.
  7. Hockey, P.A.R., Dean, W.R.J. and Ryan, P.G. (2005) Roberts Birds of Southern Africa. Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.
  8. The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (November, 2012)