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Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus Scientific name definitions

Josep del Hoyo, Popko Wiersma, Guy M. Kirwan, Nigel Collar, Peter F. D. Boesman, and Christopher J. Sharpe
Version: 1.0 — Published March 4, 2020
Text last updated March 18, 2016

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Editor's Note: This is a shorter format account, originally published in HBW Alive. Please consider contributing your expertise to update and expand this account.

Taxonomic note: Lump. This account is a combination of multiple species accounts originally published in HBW Alive. That content has been combined and labeled here at the subspecies level. Moving forward we will create a more unified account for this parent taxon. Please consider contributing your expertise to update this account.

Identification

Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus)

15–17·5 cm; 32–56 g; wingspan 42–45 cm. Differs from most similar species by white collar on hindneck; black patches on sides of breast , black bar on forecrown , black eyeline ; very variable rufous cap. Female has black areas replaced with brown to blackish brown, though a number (perhaps older birds, up to 5% in some populations) develop the black forecrown bar (1); also usually marginally smaller, though difference unlikely to be detected in the field (2). Some birds of both sexes can show a complete breastband, especially in E Asia (3). Non-breeding adult resembles breeding female. Juvenile like pale breeding female with buff fringes to upperparts . Race nihonensis very similar to nominate, but has longer bill, and non-breeding male can have little rufous on cap; male of race seebohmi has no black bar on forecrown; most seebohmi have white lores and no rufous cap.

Kentish Plover (White-faced)

16–17 cm. Small, round-headed, pale-plumaged plover, with white forecrown leading into white supercilium; white throat and underparts , and pale brown-grey upperparts , with clean white lores ; blunt-tipped medium-short black bill , and relatively long legs with a pinkish tint. Ad male in breeding plumage acquires entirely white forehead, lores and orbital area, black frontal bar and orange hindcrown, and black breast-side patches. Female at this season has grey-brown breast-side patches and lacks rufous hindcrown. Non-breeder is generally much duller, being uniform grey-brown above with no black in plumage. Juvenile is presumably very similar to non-breeding ad, but no formal description appears to be available. Formerly included within <em>C. alexandrinus</em> (see Taxonomy), but latter has black lores, more black on crown and more extensive black breast-side patches, with less white in the wing, with present species having a larger, heavier bill with a pale base to lower mandible, pale pinkish-grey legs, pale sandy-brown upperparts and a longer and more conspicuous wingbar, particularly on the primaries. Compared to the present species, C. peronii is smaller, also has dark lores, a smaller bill and distinctive pale fringes to mantle feathers.

Systematics History

Editor's Note: This article requires further editing work to merge existing content into the appropriate Subspecies sections. Please bear with us while this update takes place.

Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus)

Until recently considered conspecific with C. dealbatus and C. nivosus; also probably close to C. marginatus, C. javanicus and C. ruficapillus, and all (especially C. javanicus) have on occasion been included within present species. Proposed race spatzi (from S Western Sahara) synonymized with nominate, and leggei (from E India) with seebohmi. Three subspecies recognized.

Kentish Plover (White-faced)

Closely related to C. marginatus, C. alexandrinus, C. nivosus, C. javanicus and C. ruficapillus, all of which have on occasion been considered conspecific. Until recently, before true characters elucidated (4, 5), considered conspecific with C. alexandrinus (and also C. nivosus), but, notwithstanding lack of genetic distinctiveness (6), differs when breeding in its larger size, including thicker, blunter-tipped bill, published data (5) indicating bill depth at “nail” = 3.8 ± 0.24 vs 3.6 ± 0.57, effect size 0.46 (1); white (not black) lores (2); more extensively white forehead, with black of crown usually reduced (2); brighter and paler upperparts (2); much-reduced black lateral breast patches (ns[1]); rufous-brown of crown not extending onto nape sometimes to divide hindcollar (ns[1]); more white in wingbar (ns[1]); also ecologically, occupying generally sandier, less muddy substrates (1). It differs from C. nivosus by same characters except for lore colour, and shows far less black on ear-coverts (2). Monotypic.

Subspecies


EBIRD GROUP (POLYTYPIC)

Kentish Plover (Kentish) Charadrius alexandrinus alexandrinus/nihonensis


SUBSPECIES

Charadrius alexandrinus alexandrinus Scientific name definitions

Distribution
breeds western Palearctic to eastern China, southern Japan, and Ryukyu Islands; winters to Africa, southern Asia, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Borneo

SUBSPECIES

Charadrius alexandrinus nihonensis Scientific name definitions

Distribution
Sakhalin and S Kuril Is.

EBIRD GROUP (MONOTYPIC)

Kentish Plover (Indian) Charadrius alexandrinus seebohmi Scientific name definitions

Distribution
SE India and Sri Lanka.

EBIRD GROUP (MONOTYPIC)

Kentish Plover (White-faced) Charadrius alexandrinus dealbatus Scientific name definitions

Distribution
Breeding range uncertain, possibly SE China S from Fujian; winters S to Vietnam, Gulf of Thailand, Malay Peninsula and Sumatra (5).

Distribution

Kentish Plover (White-faced)

Breeding range uncertain, possibly SE China S from Fujian; winters S to Vietnam, Gulf of Thailand, Malay Peninsula and Sumatra (5).

Habitat

Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus)

Chiefly sea coasts, but also open flats near brackish or saline lakes, lagoons, seasonal water courses, salt-works and depressions. Usually on sand , silt or dry mud with even surface, avoiding rocky or broken ground. Quickly invades newly created suitable habitats, such as gravel pits and reservoirs, although not in large numbers, nor far from possible areas of origin. Compared to C. dubius, for nesting, the present species prefers areas of newly exposed shingle, whereas C. dubius uses areas that have been stable for longer and therefore colonized by vegetation (7).

Kentish Plover (White-faced)

Inhabits sandy areas and mudflats, as well as saltpans and (in non-breeding season) reclaimed land that was formerly intertidal mudflats and mangroves, where water had been drained and sand added in preparation for construction, creating temporary artificial areas that mimic sandy beaches, but such areas probably represent suboptimal habitat used only for roosting. Breeds on sandy beaches.

Migration Overview

Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus)

Nominate race mainly migratory N of 40° N, dispersive and resident to S, e.g. in Arabia; winters in S Eurasia, Africa N of equator (where most birds occur on coast) to W Indonesia. W European breeders winter mainly in SW Europe; origin of large numbers of W African winterers not known. Dispersal from breeding grounds starts immediately after fledging of young from late Jun (with NW European adults initially moving to Waddensee to moult) (8), and southward migration peaks in Sept; passage through Morocco in Sept, and largest numbers on Banc d’Arguin (Mauritania) in Oct, passage through E Mediterranean in Sept. NW African breeding grounds reoccupied late Feb–Apr or May, and northernmost breeding areas in Kyrgyzstan from May. Occasionally winters unusually far N, e.g. in England, Netherlands and Belgium, with regular overwintering in Europe in S & E Spain, S France, S Italy, Greece and Turkey (8). Race nihonensis has been reported wintering on Philippines and N Borneo; vagrant to E parts of Indonesia, e.g. Timor (9). Race seebohmi sedentary.

Kentish Plover (White-faced)

Thought to be a migrant breeder in coastal S China (Fujian and Hainan) and SC Vietnam, and a non-breeding visitor (mid Sept to late Mar) to coasts of continental SE Asia, with records from Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand (earliest 9 Sept) (10), Peninsular Malaysia S to S Sumatra, although previous confusion over taxonomy and ongoing identification challenges mean there is still considerable uncertainty over the species’ distribution.

Diet and Foraging

Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus)

Inland takes mainly insects, such as beetles and flies, also crustaceans, molluscs and spiders; in brackish and saltwater, chiefly crustaceans (e.g. Uca tangeri crabs in Mauritania) (11), polychaete worms (e.g. Nereis diversicolor, which was the single-most important prey item in both winter and summer during a study in SW Spain) (12) and molluscs. Sometimes probes in wet sand and mud and frequently feeds by foot-trembling. Usually in small flocks of up to 20–30 birds. May spend up to 98% of daylight hours during low-tide periods feeding , at least on spring migration stopovers (13).

Kentish Plover (White-faced)

Very few data on diet, but presumably similar to C. alexandrinus; includes small crabs. Defends feeding territory. Observed foraging in manner typical of C. leschenaultii, with head lowered, dashing rapidly across sand to seize prey items. More active than C. alexandrinus, often running almost non-stop while foraging at tide edge. Often associates with latter species when feeding and roosting, although present species tends to forage on harder, sandier substrates, while C. alexandrinus feed in softer mud along tidal channels.

Sounds and Vocal Behavior

Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus)

Rather silent. Most-frequently heard calls a short fairly soft “pit” or doubled “pidup”, sometimes combined with short trills, and a plaintive upslurred “wheet” or “toeeet”. On breeding grounds, sounds include a gravelly chatter, “dree-dree-dre-dridridri”, a burry whistle “prrrorrr”, and a low-pitched ventriloquial bubbling trill. Song in flight said to be a loud sharp rattling “tjekke..tjekke..tjekke..” (14, 15).

Kentish Plover (White-faced)

Largely silent during non-breeding period. Poorly documented, but no known differences from C. alexandrinus; alarm call on taking flight, described as ‘a high-pitched tip, sometimes tee’, very similar to that of C. alexandrinus. Vocalizations markedly distinct from more trilling calls of C. peronii. Like other Charadrius, probably has a ‘display song’ that is given on the breeding grounds, but this has not yet been recorded.

Breeding

Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus)

Laying mid Apr to May in NW Europe; Mar–Jun in NW Africa (e.g. Morocco) (16); Jan to early Jun in Cape Verde Is (8), Feb–Jul in Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia, but mid Nov to late May on Socotra (17); early Mar to mid-Jul in Iraq. Monogamous, occasionally over several years; polyandry and polygyny may occur if a parent deserts early in season (male-tended broods tend to have better chance of survival) (18), or if a parent hatches young or loses brood early, but both sequential polygyny and polygamy recorded in Spain (19) and S Turkey, where incidence of such behaviour in a well-studied population appears to be at least partially dictated by food resources (20). Solitary or in loose groups, with nests usually more than 20 m apart (0·8–80 m); site fidelity 60–70%, but may disperse long distance; very low degree of natal philopatry in some populations, but reasonably high (69%) in others (21). Territorial; feeds in neutral area outside territory. Densities up to 96 pairs/ha in suitable habitat, but more often 0·5–2 pairs/ha. Nest often near water on bare or scantly vegetated ground; shallow scrape (6–9 cm wide and 1·5–3 cm deep) (8) lined with small pebbles, shell fragments and vegetation; adult will partially bury the eggs under sand when leaving nest during hottest hours of day at exposed sites (22). Clutch three eggs , occasionally two or four (8), pale buff or stone-coloured spotted and streaked black (8), mean 33·1 mm × 23·5 mm (23), laid at intervals of c. 2 days; females single- to triple-brooded, males single- or double-brooded, with females usually deserting their first broods earlier than males (24) and no evidence that further clutches are smaller than first ones (24); replacement broods after egg loss (typically 11–24 days later (19), mainly constrained by time then any other factor) (25), may reuse same scrape, especially on harder substrates (26) and egg size is typically larger later in season (19); incubation 23–29 days, by both parents (female by day, male by night) (19) starting with last egg; in some areas, eggs often partly buried in sand before adult leaves nest, probably for protection against sun; chick has pale grey crown and upperparts with buff tinge, finely speckled dull black and lacking distinct solid lines, underparts white; frequently, one parent, often female, deserts brood c. 6 days (0–30) after hatching; fledging 27–31 days; young independent some time after fledging. Breeding success enhanced by associative breeding with more demonstrative and aggressive species. Main cause of breeding failure is predation, e.g. by Gull-billed Terns (Gelochelidon nilotica) (24). Hatching success 20–94%; 0·55 chicks/successful brood, and overall breeding success was 18–56% at different sites in a Portuguese studies (27); in Spain, at an inland, site just 19% of pairs produced chicks over two seasons (19), but in SW Spain nesting success was estimated at 45% (28). Breeding success currently very low in E China (29). Nest success at second nests only 40% of that of first ones, with nest desertion accounting for 60% of losses (24). Second eggs larger and have greater hatching success than  other eggs in a clutch; larger eggs produce heavier chicks and, within broods, heavier chicks are most likely to survive, but by laying clutches with a larger mean egg volume in replacement clutches, females take longer to lay again after failure of first clutch (30). Breeds first at one year; annual adult mortallity 12–42%, with 69% of males and 61% of females resighted the following year in one French study (31) and a long-term Turkish study also reported higher survival rates among males than females (21); oldest ringed bird almost 18 years (32).

Kentish Plover (White-faced)

Very little information that can be definitely linked to this species, as opposed to C. alexandrinus nihonensis. However, a nest of this species was recently found in Vietnam, in early May. Nest was a shallow, excavated depression in coarse sand, containing numerous fragments of seashells; it contained three olive-buff eggs marked with blackish-brown streaks and scrawls.

Conservation Status

Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus)

Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Nominate race: c. 62,000–70,000 birds winter on E Atlantic and W Mediterranean coasts (33), among which minimum 6400–9600 breeding pairs from W & C Europe (1986) and 5000 pairs from Tunisia (1983); 32,000–49,000 birds breed on Black Sea and E Mediterranean (33), c. 100,000 birds winter in SW Asia and NE Africa, with 15,000–20,000 in lakes of Nile Delta, and 25,000–100,000 birds winter in SC Asia. Large numbers winter in Banc d’Arguin (Mauritania): 6400–18,000 in 1980s, c. 10,000 in early 1990s (8). Numbers of alexandrinus in E Asia poorly known, but 95,000 estimated for East Asian Flyway recently, with c. 83,000 and 6700 individuals passing through E China and South Korea, respectively in spring, and 38,000 through the latter country in autumn, where at least 500 pairs breed (34); habitat loss is a serious threat in this region with, for example, over the past 50 years the Yellow Sea losing almost 65 % of its original intertidal habitats due to land reclamation and development (29). Race seebohmi estimated at 5000–10,000 birds, and nihonensis at 100,000 individuals (33). Overall decline in W & C Europe (including Low Countries, Denmark, Hungary, Portugal) (8) and Israel since 1950s, probably by 25–50% or more (although local increases have been reported, e.g. in Normandy, France) (35), with a southward retreat reported in Sweden and Sept counts on Sea of Azov showed decrease from 3000 to 1200 birds, from 1940 to 1970; main causes of declines are disturbance of mostly coastal habitats and habitat reduction and fragmentation through reclamation and urbanization. Local increases have been reported though, e.g. in coastal Slovenia (36) and Arabia, where range expanding in some areas (37). Small numbers of nominate alexandrinus formerly bred in S Britain (including Channel Is) (8) and Norway; in first-named country is now only an increasingly scarce visitor, with 723 records between 1986 and 2013 (38, 39, 40).

Kentish Plover (White-faced)

Not globally threatened. Currently considered Data Deficient. Population estimated to be in the order of 100,000 birds (33), but this estimate seems to have been based on the distribution of C. alexandrinus nihonensis and thus on an over-estimated view of the present species’ range (5). Very poorly known owing to historic confusion over its taxonomic status and identification (4, 5). Insufficient information on its distribution, threats, population and likely population trend for a meaningful assessment of its Red List status against IUCN criteria; it is therefore listed as Data Deficient until more is known BirdLife International (2015) Species factsheet: Charadrius dealbatus. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 23/06/2015. . Almost all recent observations come from non-breeding areas; circumstances in breeding areas unknown (5). Recently recorded, for first time, in Hong Kong, in Oct 2013 (41). However, coastal S China is affected by widespread coastal degradation, and it seems inevitable that breeding areas have been lost. If beaches are preferred breeding habitat (42), these will come under increasing pressure from China’s developing tourist infrastructure, especially in Hainan and Guangxi provinces (5). Threats during the non-breeding season are unclear; it may even take advantage of temporary habitats created by coastal land reclamation (5). Key sites for the species should be identified with a view to preventing their reclamation.

Recommended Citation

del Hoyo, J., P. Wiersma, G. M. Kirwan, N. Collar, P. F. D. Boesman, and C. J. Sharpe (2020). Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (S. M. Billerman, B. K. Keeney, P. G. Rodewald, and T. S. Schulenberg, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.kenplo1.01