We surveyed Mountain Plovers (Charadrius montanus) wintering in the Imperial Valley of California in January 2001, and also recorded the types of crop fields used by plovers in this agricultural landscape. We tallied 4037 plovers in 36 flocks ranging in size from 4 to 596 birds. Plovers were more common on alfalfa and Bermudagrass fields than other field types. Further, most birds were on alfalfa fields that were currently being (or had recently been) grazed, primarily by domestic sheep. Plovers used Bermudagrass fields only after harvest and subsequent burning. Examination of Christmas Bird Count data from 1950–2000 indicated that the Mountain Plover has abandoned its historical wintering areas on the coastal plains of California. Numbers in the Central Valley seem to have undergone recent declines also. We believe that the cultivated landscape of the Imperial Valley provides wintering habitats for about half of the global population of Mountain Plovers. We attribute the current importance of the Imperial Valley for Mountain Plovers to loss of native coastal and Central Valley habitats rather than to a behavioral switching of wintering areas through time. Future changes in specific cropping or management practices in the Imperial Valley will have a major impact on the conservation status of this species.
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Vol. 74 • No. 1