Madagascar plover (Charadrius thoracicus)
|Also known as:||black-banded plover|
|French:||Gravelot de Madagascar|
|Size||Length: 13 – 14 cm (2)|
Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1).
This small, long-legged shorebird has brown-grey plumage on the upperparts. The white underparts, which are tinged yellowish-orange on the belly, contrast starkly with the distinct black band across the breast. The rather square head has a brown crown surrounded by a white band. The front of the head is black, which joins with a black stripe through the eye and extends along the sides of the neck (3). The bill is black, the eyes are brown, and the legs are bluish-grey (3) (4). Male and female Madagascar plovers are similar in appearance, but juveniles differ by having a more greyish-brown breast band (2).
This plover occurs on the south-west coast of Madagascar. It is also occasionally reported on the east coast (2).
The Madagascar plover inhabits coastal grasslands at the edges of brackish pools and lagoons. Less frequently, it can be found in mangroves and the muddy or sandy shores of lakes or the ocean (2) (4).
Often found alone, in pairs, or occasionally seen in small groups, the Madagascar plover feeds on insects (3). It roosts in groups on sand spits facing the sea or a lake, or on dunes covered with creeping vegetation, often with other shorebirds (3).
December to April is the most important breeding period for the Madagascar plover, which coincides with the wet season and, presumably, an abundance of food (5). Nests are situated in dry grassland, between 2 and 50 metres from the coast or a lake, and are simple scrapes in the ground lined with dry or fresh plant material, or sometimes small stones and pieces of shell (5). Two clutches of eggs are generally laid every year (2), each consisting of two dull tan-coloured eggs patterned with brown (3). Both parents help incubate their precious brood for a period of around 27 days and will defend the nest from other plovers such as Kittliz’s plover (Charadrius pecuarius)and the white-fronted plover (Charadrius marginatus) (5). Madagascar plover chicks have whitish down with black spots (3), and fledge at around a month old. Until they fledge, the eggs and chicks are very vulnerable to predators, such as raptors and possibly mongoose, feral cats and dogs (5).
With just a small population remaining, which is believed to be declining, the Madagascar plover is considered to be vulnerable to extinction (4). These declines may be due to competition with Kittliz’s plover and the white-fronted plover (although there is little evidence to support this), or may be a result of modification of its habitat (2) (4). Currently, there is a trend to convert wetlands to shrimp farms and rice paddies which (5), while good for Madagascar’s economy, spells disaster for its endemic wetland inhabitants. It may also be impacted by egg collection by local people, although the Madagascar plover’s nests are believed to be difficult to find and rarely searched for (4). Whatever the threat, the Madagascar plover is particularly vulnerable to impacts due to its restriction to a handful of breeding sites in specific habitat, and its very low productivity; not only does each nest only usually contain two eggs, but only 9.5 per cent of nests produce a fledged chick (5).
The Madagascar plover is known to occur in at least two protected areas: Lake Tsimanampetsotsa and Baly Bay National Park (4), but the majority of its breeding sites remain unprotected (5). It has therefore been suggested that the establishment of new protected areas is vital to prevent habitat loss at critical breeding sites (5). The protection of the nests, young and adults from predators may also be required for the plover’s conservation, but the control of predators can often be challenging when they themselves may be endemic and threatened species (5).
For further information on wetland conservation in Madagascar see:
- BirdLife International:
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- Brackish: slightly salty water.
- Endemic: a species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
IUCN Red List (July, 2014)