The birders’ column

Photo: Albert Froneman

The only plover in the region with a double black breast band. Common resident, mostly sedentary but undergoes large scale movements in response to water levels.
The black double breast-band, grey cheeks and conspicuous red eye-ring and base to the bill are distinctive. Forehead and supercilia white, latter meet on lower hind neck, forming white head band. Crown and nape sepia-brown, two black breast bands separated by white, with white under parts. Bill pinkish red with black tip, iris hazel to light yellowish, legs and feet pinkish grey.
This small brown backed plover is very widespread and common in Southern Africa. Absent only from the true Kalahari desert, the desert regions of the Namibian coast line and mountainous country. They also occur in Madagascar.
They are present on most water bodies with sandy or pebbly margins, rare on the open coast. Common resident at natural freshwater wetlands, prefers muddy areas often close to vegetation. Regularly moves from higher rainfall areas to lower rainfall areas during wet seasons.
They have also adapted well to artificial dams and sewage works. Will often move to such sites when its natural habitat becomes flooded, overgrown or too cold.
Three-banded Plovers are usually in pairs when breeding, otherwise in loose flocks of up to 10 birds.
Between 100 and 150 have been recorded at various sewage works. Their movements are quick and jerky, runs in short spurts, stop to peck at substrate or to probe in mud with rapid jabs.
They frequently bobs fairly long tails when alarmed, when standing and slightly nervous, gives sharp bob with whole body.
They prefer firm or gravelly shorelines to the water bodies they inhabit. Active by day and night, roosts on broad open shoreline away from water, singly or in mixed-species flocks.
It mixes freely with other small waders. Once called “ sea-cow bird “, allegedly due to their association with Hippopotamus.
Their call is a penetrating plaintive “ wik-wik “ together with a shrill high-pitched whistle. Their diet consists of spiders, worms, crustaceans and other aquatic invertebrates. Sometimes uses foot-trembling to disturb prey.
These small plovers breed from April to January in South Africa, variable according to water levels and food supply. Lays 2 pale cream yellowish eggs densely covered with fine short lines and scribbly blackish brown and grey.
The nest is a shallow scrape lined or ringed with small stones, bits of soil or dry plant fragments. These nests are usually on exposed gravel or mud flats near water. Both sexes share the incubation of 28 days. The young are precocious when hatched , but remain in the nest for the first 24 hours before starting to feed.
Young are well camouflaged against the mixed gravel background. They fledge after 30 days. Fledglings are cared for by parents on which they are dependant for 45 days.
Three-banded Plovers are solitary nesters, the male defends their territory by day, incubates at night when the female feeds. When very hot, crouches over eggs, occasionally soaks belly feathers to cool eggs.

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