Home > Wildlife News > Africa > The Common Ringed Plover – BirdLife International’s Special Wader

The Common Ringed Plover was the focal species of BirdLife International’s 2020 programme called Spring Alive. This project has been engaging children around the world in recording bird migration in their countries since 2006. Here are some fascinating facts about the Common Ringed Plover, courtesy of BirdLife International.

Have you ever looked at a migratory bird and imagined where it came from, and all the places it passed through to get to where it is here, today? In 2020, most of us experienced more restrictions on our lives and movements than ever before. Throughout this time, birds had never been a more powerful symbol of connectivity. Unlike us, they were still free to cross national borders, oceans and continents, and by appreciating their journey and the nations we share them with, they united us despite everything.

During this difficult time, countless people turned to nature as a source of comfort and solace. With our 2020 theme “how to be a good birdwatcher”, our children’s programme Spring Alive guided budding birdwatchers on the basics, promoting best-practice guidelines to ensure an enjoyable, safe and bird-friendly experience. And though public events were cancelled and schools closed, we were still hard at work online, sharing nature-themed educational activities to keep children interested and engaged.

Bird Life Went On Despite The Pandemic

But while life lost its variety for many of us, the natural world is always changing. Spring is the time of year when Europe says goodbye to the migratory birds it has cherished throughout the spring and summer and wishes them safe passage to Africa. As African bird lovers welcome the influx of new arrivals, we’d like to introduce this Spring Alive focal species: the Common Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula.

Common Ringed Plover incubating eggs

Photo Credit: Arnoldius, Common Ringed Plover incubating eggs

We chose this small, adorable wader in order to expand the Spring Alive world to an exciting new habitat: wetlands. The iconic species can be easily spotted along coastlines, marshes, rivers and lakes throughout Southern Africa – in fact, you may well have seen it already. But you might not be aware of the fascinating and fearless behaviours that are packed into this tiny but feisty bird. Here are just a few things to look out for as you venture out on your next birdwatching trip.

The Common Ringed Plover Has A Peculiar Style

One of the most distinctive quirks you may notice about this bird is its robotic, hyperactive feeding style, constantly scurrying around and then stopping abruptly like a demented clockwork toy. But there’s method in the madness: the species feeds on insects, crustaceans and worms scattered across the shoreline. To pick off prey on the surface, it uses its excellent eyesight, standing stock still and watching for signs of movement, then quickly running forward and pecking, before screeching to a halt and watching again. To get at worms underground it deploys an even more ingenious technique called ‘foot-trembling’. Standing on one leg it taps the other foot rapidly on the mud, imitating rainfall and encouraging the moisture-loving worms to slither to the surface.

But you’re not going to see just one Common Ringed Plover. Oh, no. This highly social wader collects in flocks of at least 50 – but sometimes as many as 1,500 birds. It gets even more impressive when you realise that they’ve travelled thousands of kilometres from their breeding sites along the Arctic coast of northern Europe and Canada, to overwinter in southern Africa. Which makes it all the more important not to disturb them when you’re birdwatching – because they’re recovering from a pretty packed schedule.

Where The Common Ringed Plover Starts Its Life

The adventure starts in spring at their breeding grounds, where they lay up to four eggs in a very shallow ‘scrape’ on the shoreline. A paragon of gender equality, both parents have similar plumage and split incubation duties equally, fiercely defending the nest from interlopers. If the threat gets too great, they have another, more risky trick up their sleeves – they will feign a broken wing, staggering in the opposite direction to lead predators away from the nest.

Common Ringed Plover broken wing display

Photo Credit: Tim Melling-Flickr, Common Ringed Plover broken wing display

So now you can see that, while wetlands may look like a huge empty expanse of mud, they’re filled with drama and intrigue. They’re also a lifeline for the birds that call them home. Sadly, some people don’t see it that way. The Common Ringed Plover’s population is declining as wetlands are polluted or drained to make way for agriculture – a common theme on every step of its migratory journey, including Africa.

“Ghana has a number of wetlands, but unfortunately, these wetlands are seen as wastelands, leading to encroachment. It is thus important to raise awareness about these sites, restore and rehabilitate them”, says Louisa Kabobah, Conservation Education Officer at Ghana Wildlife Society (BirdLife Partner).

Wetland education

Photo Credit: Ghana Wildlife Society, Wetland education 

We hope this brave, feisty little bird will become an ambassador for wetland conservation, helping to raise awareness and support for these vital habitats.

This article first appeared in Birdlife, the membership magazine for Birdlife International

BirdLife International’s Spring Alive Programme

Spring Alive is a project organised by BirdLife International, which aims to inspire and educate children across Africa and Eurasia about the wonders of nature and bird migration. Through workshops, school activities and family events, this initiative strives to create the next generation of conservationists. The 2021 Spring Alive season is made possible with the support of HeidelbergCement.

Original Date of Publish: 26 March 2021 / Updated 1 March 2022

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