Greater sand plover (Charadrius leschenaultii)

Also known as: Greater sand-plover and large sand dotterel
French: Pluvier du désert
GenusCharadrius (1)
SizeWingspan: 13.3 – 15 cm (2)
Bill length: 2.1 – 2.5 cm (2)
Weight71 – 103 g (2)

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

Although it has a relatively dull appearance for most of the year, the greater sand plover’s plumage changes during the breeding season (3). At this time, the crown changes from greyish-brown to a dull brick red, as does the white breast, and the small feathers that cover the ear region change colour from a dusky grey to black. The chin and throat remain white throughout the year, while the nape and forehead are a greyish-brown colour all year round (4). The call of the greater sand plover is a clear triii or trrirrrt sound (5).

The greater sand plover can be found all over Central Asia, from Armenia to the Aral Sea. It migrates further south during the winter and has been found all along the coast of the Indian Ocean, from South Africa to the Philippines, New Guinea, New Zealand and the west coast of Australia (6).

During the breeding season the greater sand plover is found in open, uncultivated areas without much tree coverage. This includes areas of dried mud, silt and clay flats, and also hard salt pans which are usually heavily covered in plants that grow well in salty conditions. It generally breeds near water, typically within 20 kilometres, although some greater sand plovers are also found on rocky plains near mountains in desert and semi-desert (7).

In the non-breeding season the greater sand plover is found on sheltered sandy, shelly or muddy beaches. It may also be seen on dunes near the coast and salt marshes a little further inland. During migration it will often use salt lakes and brackish swamps with sandbanks and spits to roost on (7).

The greater sand plover is a carnivorous species that varies its diet seasonally; during the breeding season it feeds mainly on terrestrial insects and their larvae, especially preying on midges, ants, beetles and termites, but also occasionally hunting larger animals such as lizards. During the non-breeding season, the greater sand plover mainly eats marine invertebrates, such as snails, worms, crabs and shrimp (7). Usually feeding at low tide on wet ground, just away from the water’s edge, the greater sand plover detects and catches prey with the help of good eyesight and the ability to sprint over short distances (3). A sociable species, the greater sand plover often feeds and roosts in flocks(3). It typically feeds in flocks of between two and fifty individuals but sometimes congregates in groups as large as one thousand whilst roosting (7), which is mainly done on sand bars at high tide (5).

Relatively little is known about the greater sand plover’s reproductive life, but it is thought to first breed at approximately two years old (8). During the breeding season, it migrates to an open area and builds a nest by scraping a shallow hole in gravel, sand or other barren site (7). It lays an average of three eggs around April and May and both parents care for the brood (3).

The greater sand plover migrates twice a year to and from breeding sites, beginning its migration between June and August, and arriving at wintering areas between July and November. The exact time of the migration and the length of time it takes depends on whether it spends the winter in south-east Asia, east Africa or southern Asia (7).

The greatest direct threat to the greater sand plover is the degradation and destruction of its wetland habitats, particularly in Australia, southern Africa and China. In Australia, agricultural and hydrological developments are rapidly reducing inland and coastal habitat (7), while wetlands in southern Africa, for example those in Walvis Bay, Namibia, have been reclaimed for suburb and port development. In China, the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River has also proved to be a serious threat, disrupting the plover’s habitat. Tourism and commercial hunting are also threatening the plover population in China, with many of the birds ending up on plates in restaurants (7).

This species has a large population size and is not believed to be decreasing at an alarming rate, and it has therefore been classified as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List (1). Despite its non-threatened status, there are still strategies in place to further increase numbers, notably in New South Wales, Australia, where the Department of Environment and Conservation has identified three priority actions to help increase numbers. These focus on increasing community and landholder awareness of the species, minimising human disturbance at identified key foraging sites, and reviewing and collecting population size and distribution data every two years (3). The greater sand plover is also one of the species to which the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) applies (9), an agreement that covers 255 species of birds that are dependent on wetlands at some point during their lifecycle, and calls upon countries to work together to develop conservation action plans for these species (9).

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  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2010)
  2. Birds of Kazakhstan (November, 2009)
  3. Threatened Species Unit. (1999) Threatened Species Information: Greater Sand Plover. National Parks and Wildlife Service, NSW.
  4. Marchant, S. and Higgins, P. (1993) Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds. Volume 2: Raptors to Lapwings. Oxford University Press, Melbourne.
  5. Davidson, I. (2006) South African Birds: A Photographic Guide. Struik Publishers, South Africa.
  6. Smith, P. (1991) The Biology and Management of Waders (Suborder Charadrii) in NSW. NPWS, Hurstville.
  7. BirdLife International (November, 2009)
  8. Del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (2001) Handbook of the Birds of the World, Volume 3: Hoatzin to Auks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  9. Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (November, 2009)