Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula)



Ringed Plover © Ren Hathway

Ringed Plover © Ren Hathway

Ringed Plovers in Cheshire and Wirral favour transient habitat, especially post-industrial sites near to the shore, but these are abandoned if they become too vegetated. Birds were found at abandoned or reclaimed docksides, a demolished power station and petrochemical plant, a dry clay pit, flashes, lime beds and canal dredging deposit beds. Their breeding status is much the same as in our First Atlas but, as indicated by the ‘change’ map, few of the sites where they nested twenty years ago are still suitable; only four tetrads held birds in both Atlas periods. Their traditional breeding sites are sandy shores, but the Wirral beaches are far too disturbed and no Ringed Plovers use them now: the two records in 1978 and 1983, during our First Atlas, are the last known.

The female lays four eggs in a scrape on the ground, neatly arranged with their pointed ends always in the centre of the nest, and shares the incubation with her mate. After about 24 days the chicks emerge with their legs fully formed and able to run around and find their own food of invertebrates and insects. In the ten tetrads with confirmed breeding, five of them came from observers seeing the gawky youngsters and five with an adult sitting on eggs; three instances of ‘probable breeding’ arose from pairs seen. The young birds can fly after about another 24 days, and the pair usually has a second brood; I have dates for nests with eggs in Cheshire from 8 April until early July.

The trend in the national breeding population is not well known and the results of the BTO survey of Ringed Plovers and Little Ringed Plovers in 2007 are awaited. The spread away from the coast was noted in the BTO Second Atlas (1988-91), and a census in England and Wales revealed an increase of 12% in breeding birds in wet meadows, mostly at coastal sites, between 1982 and 2002 (Wilson et al 2005). The Cheshire and Wirral breeding population at the end of our First Atlas in 1984 was at its highest level for well over one hundred years, at 13 pairs. In the years since then, the annual bird reports have seldom recorded breeding anywhere other than at ‘River Mersey/ Weaver sites’ but clearly this Atlas has stimulated more thorough surveying and the county population is probably still around a dozen pairs.

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