Once a fairly common breeding bird across southern England, the Kentish plover is a rare and sporadic visitor to the UK, with sightings most commonly reported during spring and autumn migrations.
Juvenile Kentish Plover
Female Kentish Plover with her chick
Kentish Plover standing in shallow water amongst pebbles
15cm to 17.5cm
42cm to 45cm
32g to 56g
Kentish plovers are small pale shorebirds, with sandy-rufous upper parts, a chestnut crown and a white collar. Their chin, breast, belly, flanks and underparts are pure white, while their legs, bill and eyes are dark. In breeding plumage, males have a black forecrown, and a black line alongside the eye, and a broken black breast band, from each side. In non-breeding males, the deep black fades to a duller sandy brown.
Females have similar markings to males but are darker brown rather than sandy in colour. In most, the black forecrown and broken breast band of adult males is absent, although in exceptional cases may still be visible.
Juvenile Kentish plovers are alike in colouring to adult females, but have buff fringes to their dull brown upperparts and paler legs.
Male Kentish Plover
Female Kentish Plover
Kentish Plover in natural habitat
A relatively silent species, the gravelly chattering call and burred whistles of Kentish plovers may be heard on beaches in the breeding season.
Kentish Plover taking off from the beach
The diet of Kentish plovers is typical of shoreline birds: insects and their larvae, spiders, crustaceans, small molluscs and sand worms. They also occasionally eat eel grass and seaweed.
Kentish plover chicks are able to feed themselves from their earliest days, and are led to foraging grounds away from the nest site almost immediately and do not return.
Kentish Plover feeding on a sand worm
Kentish plovers favour mainly coastal locations and are most commonly spotted on sandy beaches, dry mudflats, and salt ponds, usually near water. Occasionally individuals or small groups may travel further inland to feed, for example on the shores of gravel pits and reservoirs.
The distribution range of Kentish plovers covers a wide and diverse area, with the species native to large areas of coastal west and north Africa, western and southern Europe, the Arabian peninsula, and into India and Pakistan, and eastern China, Japan and Korea.
Breeding populations arrive in eastern Europe and Central Asia in spring, and return to winter territories in southern Europe and North Africa each autumn.
European population estimates for Kentish plovers are between 43,000 and 70,000, which equates to around 15 percent of the global population. The western Mediterranean and eastern Atlantic coasts welcome large influxes outside of the breeding season, and up to 49,000 birds breed around the Black Sea and eastern Mediterranean Sea.
Kentish Plover in coastal area
Within the UK, Kentish plovers are now an exceedingly rare visitor, with only around 96 sightings reported in the decade from 2010 to 2020. Outside of the UK, the species’ global population is estimated at up to 500,000, although numbers are particularly difficult to assess due to the wide cross-continental distribution range.
Kentish plovers are no longer regularly sighted in the UK. Previously a relatively uncommon breeding bird across the south of England, with concentrations focused on the coastal reserve at Dungeness until the 1930s, the last nesting pair was recorded in the country at Gibraltar Point, Lincolnshire in 1979.
Kentish Plover in-flight
Ringing records show that a Kentish plover reached the age of almost 18 years, with males typically living longer than females. Breeding occurs for the first time at one year of age.
Gulls, skuas and gull-billed terns are common predators of Kentish plovers’ nests and young.
Breeding success is relatively low, due to their vulnerability as a ground-nesting species: Kentish plover nests are reported to have only an 18 to 56 percent success rate in Portugal.
As a precautionary measure against predation, Kentish plovers have been observed to nest alongside noisy and easily flushed species such as northern lapwings and collared pratincoles, taking advantage of the early warning system their distress calls at intruders provide.
The Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 offers protection to Kentish plovers that visit the UK. Under the legislation, it is illegal to knowingly kill, harm or capture a Kentish plover.
In the UK, Kentish plovers have already been lost as a breeding species, and sightings of passage birds are increasingly uncommon. Downward trends in the global population are also reported, with breeding territories becoming more fragmented. However, globally, Kentish plovers continue to be rated as a species of least concern.
Kentish Plovers during mating season
Typical nest sites of Kentish plovers are located on bare expanses of the shore, close to water. They prefer spots with sparse vegetation, forming a shallow depression directly on the shore of a beach.
This is then lined with small pebbles and fragments of shells and small twigs. Sand may be used to partially cover eggs if the nest is ever left unattended.
Between two and four eggs – usually three – are laid between mid-April and May by Kentish plovers breeding in north-western Europe.
In north-west Africa, the breeding season is between March and June, while Kentish plovers breeding further south in Africa, from Cape Verde to Ethiopia, Somalia and Eritrea, eggs are laid between January and July.
Kentish plovers’ eggs can be various shades from buff to stone and streaked with black markings, which allows them to be well camouflaged against their shoreline nesting landscapes.
On average, eggs measure 33 mm by 24 mm (1.3 in by 0.9 in) and are incubated for between 23 and 29 days. The female undertakes daytime incubation, while males take over the task at night.
Kentish plovers usually hatch one brood together before going their separate ways. It’s common for either the male or female to desert the brood after hatching, and chicks to be raised by one parent, while the other may seek a new mate and attempt a further brood.
However, it’s not unheard of for pairs to remain together or to reunite in subsequent seasons.
Nest of a Kentish Plover with two eggs
Female Kentish Plover sitting on her nest
Although territorial and protective over nest sites during the breeding season, Kentish plovers are happy to share foraging grounds with other shorebirds as well as their fellow species in loose groups all year round, although aggressive encounters do occur.
Flock of Kentish Plovers
Depending on location, Kentish plovers may either be migratory or resident all year round.
The breeding population of north-west Europe generally moves to south-eastern Europe for winters, having temporarily dispersed to the Wadden Sea off the north coast of Germany to moult. Some may join migration flocks to north-western Africa, although little data is available.
Kentish plovers that breed in coastal west Africa, parts of southern Europe and around the Arabian peninsula are resident in their territories all year round
Kentish plovers are no longer native to the UK, with the most recent breeding records dating from 1979. The species is now considered a rare passage visitor, with just 13 Kentish plovers spotted in Britain in 2016.
Kentish Plover walking on the beach in search of food
Kentish plovers used to be widespread in the English county of Kent, particularly at Dungeness, until the 1930s.
Frequently seen running along the shore in a stop/start fashion, the Ringed Plover is a plump but neatly marked wader of coastlines and inland waterways.
Little Ringed Plover
Feisty shorebirds, little ringed plovers can be spotted in the UK in summer months, actively foraging around the edges of gravel pits and reservoirs. But they arent around for long by late summer, migration to their wintering grounds in sub-Saharan Africa is underway.
With glossy green plumage and an extravagant crest, the Lapwing is an eye-catching wader of marsh and pasture.
Grey plovers are winter visitors to North America, where they are commonly known as black-bellied plovers. Also found on the beaches and muddy estuaries along the coast of Britain, they are an easily identified species of wading bird, with an unusually wide distribution range that encompasses six continents.
Identified by their upright stance, scurrying running movements across mudflats and pastures, and distinctive black and golden breeding plumage, golden plovers are resident in the UK all year round, with numbers increasing dramatically in winter with the arrival of hundreds of thousands of migratory birds from northern Europe.
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