Blacksmith Plover Vanellus armatus
Animal Demography Unit
Photo Kathy Calf
Blacksmith Plover adult at Red Cross Hospital
The family Charadriidae comprises 67 species, of which the Blacksmith Plover is one of the 11 species breeding in the southern hemisphere. Blacksmith Plovers are resident in South Africa, moving only small distances from their breeding territories.
Adults are striking in shades of black, white and grey. By far the most impacting character is their shrieking call when defending territories, eggs or chicks. Males and females are very similar in size and colour.
Blacksmith Plovers breed mainly from July to October with a peak in August and September but nests may be laid in any month if conditions are right. Nests are scrapes in the ground lined with a thin layer of small stones or vegetation. They are usually found near to water, marsh with short vegetation or mudflats. In some cases nests are found long distances from water, for example, Red Cross Children's Hospital in the middle of suburban Rondebosch. They have been observed to breed in places that Crowned Plovers prefer to breed. They usually lay three to four eggs but clutches of two and clutches of 5 or 6 have been recorded. Blacksmith Plovers are territorial when breeding and can have nests as close as 100m apart.
Incubation usually starts when the first egg is laid, but only when the last egg is laid are both parents diligently tending the eggs, taking shifts of 20 to 80 minutes each. Incubation takes about a month and chicks of the same clutch all hatch within a day, and sometimes within a few hours. Blacksmith Plover chicks are precocial, leaving the nest soon after hatching. Although Blacksmith Plovers do not feed their chicks or show them where food is, they brood the chicks when small and incapable of maintaining body temperature and the adults are particularly defencive, alarming when danger is still 600 to 800 meters away.
As a result of their independence in feeding, the energetic costs of feeding and thermoregulating is placed on the chick. Subsequently their growth is slower than that of Crowned Plovers, although being about the same size and feeding on similar food.
See also: 65 years of klinking in the Western Cape