Distribution: As cited in Knopf (1996): The mountain plover, Charadrius montanus, breeds in eastern, central, and southwestern Montana (Bergeron et al. 1992), tablelands of Wyoming (Oakleaf et al. 1992), eastern Colorado (including Fremont and Park counties; Andrews and Righter 1992), northeast and locally to west-central New Mexico (south to Roswell area and west to Fence Lake area; Hubbard 1978), and in Oklahoma and Texas panhandles. An isolated breeding population occurs in Davis Mountains, Texas. Breeding records defining the periphery of its range include Catron (Johnson and Spicer 1981), San Juan (Tolle 1976), and Valencia (Hubbard 1978) Counties, NM; Park County, NE (Clausen 1990, FLK), and the Lost River area of southern Alberta (Soper 1941, Wershler 1987). Three nests were found in 1993 in Duchesne County, UT (Day 1994), and additional nesting activity was found in 1994 and 1995.
In Utah it has been recorded as a casual migrant in Box Elder, Weber, Salt Lake, and Daggett counties (Woodbury et al. 1949). There are six documented historical sightings in the Uinta Basin (White et al. 1983). In 1978, Dan Gardner of the Bureau of Land Management photographed one adult and a nearby nest with three eggs (UDWR 1994, unpublished report). A pair of plovers was observed on 11 April 1989 on a sage brush bench about 1.6 k (1 mi) east of Pelican Lake, Uintah County (D. A. Boyce, USFS, pers. comm.). There were seven sightings of mountain plovers made during Utah Division of Wildlife Resources whitetail prairie dog (Cynomys leucurus) mapping surveys of Eightmile Flat, Uintah County in 1992 (UDWR 1992, unpublished report). Survey work in 1993 confirmed a population of unknown size in the same area (Day 1994). Population information from survey work done from 1993-98 is reported in Table 8.
As cited in Knopf (1996): Winter range. Birds disperse widely across western and southern Great Plains in late summer and early fall. Most birds winter from north-central California to Mexico border, primarily in the Sacramento, San Joaquin, and Imperial valleys, with some birds on Pacific slopes in southern counties (Knopf and Rupert 1995).
Ecology: Most birds wintering in California depart mid-March in flocks of less than 100 birds in a west-east spring migration, and seem to make a nonstop flight to the breeding grounds. Plovers regularly arrive on the Pawnee National Grassland around March 17 (Knopf and Rupert 1995), and have been observed in Duchesne County, Utah as early as April 9. It is likely that plovers arrive in Utah earlier than the date of observation reported here. Mountain plover diet consists mainly of arthropods. Baldwin (1971, as cited in Knopf 1996) found ground-dwelling beetles to account for 60% of food mass eaten, grasshoppers and crickets 24.5% and ants 6.6%. A study done of the plover diet on the wintering ground indicated that birds may be more flexible in food selection than previously thought (Knopf 1998). This species is associated with disturbed prairie and semidesert habitats. It prefers areas with 30% bare ground (Knopf and Miller 1994). Territories on the breeding ground are about 16 hectares each though some boundaries may overlap. Some birds will return to the same territory used the previous year (Graul 1973). In Utah nests of nearest neighbors in 1998 were located about 240-370 meters apart. The nest is a simple scrape on the ground (Graul 1973). Clutch size is typically 3 (Knopf 1996). Known predators to the mountain plover include thirteen-lined ground squirrel, swift fox, coyote, Swainson's Hawk, Prairie Falcon and Loggerhead Shrike (Knopf 1996). Most plovers breeding in Weld County, Colorado have departed by August 1 (Knopf and Rupert 1996); in Utah birds have been observed with young until August 14. Exact departure dates are not known.
Habitat Requirements: The mountain plover is typically associated with shortgrass prairie habitat, composed primarily of blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis) and buffalo grass (Buchloe dactyloides, Graul 1975). Habitat characteristics in the Uinta Basin are notably different from shortgrass prairie breeding areas. Vegetation is sparse; sagebrush communities are dominated by Artemisia spp. with components of black sagebrush (A. nova) and grasses (Goodrich and Neese 1986). On the Pawnee National Grassland, Colorado, mountain plovers prefer to nest in areas of predominantly blue grama-buffalo grass with a mean height of less than 8 cm in April. Nest site selection is not random, but slightly colonial (Graul 1975). Graul (1973) reported nests to be clumped even in good habitat areas, especially in low population numbers. In north-central Montana on the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, mountain plover nests are highly correlated with Black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) towns. Horizontal visibility on prairie dog towns is greater than visibility in adjacent areas (Knowles 1982). Studies in both Colorado and Montana described nest sites with a significant bare ground component at a minimum of 30%. Plovers also frequently raise broods near areas of excessive disturbance (Knopf and Miller 1994). In Utah a small mountain plover population breeds in shrub-steppe habitat where White-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys leucurus) are present, and oil and gas development have contributed surface disturbance to the landscape. On the wintering ground in California plovers are found on plowed fields, heavily grazed annual grasslands, and burned fields (Knopf and Rupert 1995).