Shorebirds of Fort DeSoto – The Plovers

Throughout the year you can see and photograph many different species of Plovers on Fort De Soto’s beaches, tidal lagoons and spartina marshes. Of the plover species that are seen in North America there are seven species that can been seen during their migration or winter grounds, six of those species are seen with regularity and one that is seen infrequently.

  1. American Golden Plover – seen infrequently during migration
  2. Black-bellied Plover
  3. Killdeer– year round resident of Florida, seen mostly inland but does show up at Fort De Soto’s beaches infrequently
  4. Piping Plover
  5. Semipalmated Plover
  6. Snowy Plover – can be a year round resident and does breed in Florida
  7. Wilson’s Plover – year round resident

Black-bellied Plover in nonbreeding plumageBlack-bellied Plover in nonbreeding plumage – D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/1000, ISO 160, 80-400mm VR at 340mm, natural light

Black-bellied Plovers are the largest and most common of the North American plovers. It feeds in the mudflats, the shallow waters of the lagoons and along the Gulf shoreline of Fort De Soto.

Black-bellied Plover in breeding plumageBlack-bellied Plover in breeding plumage – D200, handheld, 1/1000, ISO 200, 70-300mm VR at 300mm, natural light

At Fort De Soto the Black-bellied Plovers are often seen in nonbreeding plumage as well as in breeding plumage. The image above shows the black belly that this species is known and named for.  In breeding and nonbreeding plumage  Black-bellied Plovers show a black underwing part close to the body that distinguishes them from the other Pluvialis plovers.

Killdeer in grassesKilldeer in grasses – D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/1000, ISO 320, 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light
Taken near Ruskin, Florida across Tampa Bay

Killdeer are considered “Upland Plovers” and can be seen far from water in fields, lake and river edges, golf course, air fields, pastures, the sides of roads, parking lots and more. At Fort De Soto I have seen them on near the mudflats of the lagoons and I have seen them in the grassy areas between the parking lot at North Beach and the sand of the beaches.  It is larger than the Wilson’s and Semipalmated Plover that look similar and has two breast bands instead of one. The only photos I have of Killdeer at Fort De Soto the birds were small in the frame and I decided to post this one instead for identification purposes.

Puffed up Piping PloverPuffed up Piping Plover – D200, handheld, f5.6, 1/750, ISO 250, 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

Piping Plovers are small and pale, paler than the Semipalmated and Wilson’s Plovers though not quite as pale as Snowy Plovers. It can easily be distinguished from the Snowy Plover by their yellow to orange legs, Snowy Plovers have gray to pinkish legs. The differences in the bills of the two species are also a help with ID,  Piping Plovers have an orange, black tipped bill and Snowy Plovers have a black bill.

Semipalmated Plover in early morning lightSemipalmated Plover in early morning light – D200, handheld, f5.6, 12000, ISO 250, 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light

Semipalmated Plovers are seen along the lagoons, mudflats and the Gulf shoreline. On chilly days they seem to enjoy resting in the sand with their feathers all fluffed up. Their food can be taken right at the surface but they also dig down a few millimeters to find their prey.

Snowy Plover resting on the wrack lineSnowy Plover resting on the wrack line – D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/1000, ISO 250, 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light

Snowy Plovers are the smallest and palest of the plovers seen on Fort De Soto. In some parts of Florida they are year round residents that breed on open beaches and dunes. This species blends in extremely well with the sand at Fort De Soto and can run very quickly. Habitat destruction has resulted in declining populations of this charming and diminutive plover.

Adult Wilson's PloverAdult Wilson’s Plover – D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/800, ISO 250, 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light

Wilson’s Plovers are the largest of the Charadrius species of  plovers. They have a heavy belly and usually exhibit a very upright posture. Wilson’s Plover have a thick black bill that is heavier appearing than the other Charadrius plovers.  When they are adults they have brownish upper parts.

Young Wilson's Plover with a Fiddler CrabYoung Wilson’s Plover with a Fiddler Crab – D200, handheld, f7.1, 1/640, ISO 200, 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light

When Wilson’s Plovers are young their plumage can appear much paler than the adults as seen in the image above.

Unfortunately I never had the opportunity to photograph American Golden Plovers at Fort De Soto and thus I do not have an image to provide for them. Maybe on my next trip I’ll have that chance. I hope so.



  1. Denise Ippolito October 20, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    Mia, All very nice looking. My favorite is the Adult Wilson’s Plover. The image design and the look are fantastic.

  2. RedMango October 18, 2010 at 5:56 am

    Very nice post!

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