The Black-bellied Plover is one of the more common and conspicuous shorebird species. During migration, these pigeon-sized plovers are frequently seen on mudflats and beaches of southern Texas. In August, the birds are still molting out of their handsome breeding plumage and thus show their characteristic black belly. During the winter, they lack the black belly and are mostly pale gray (and indeed are known as the Gray Plover in the United Kingdom).
As with other plover species, the Black-bellied forages by taking a few steps or making short runs and then pausing for several seconds. When a tasty little crab, bug, or worm is spotted, they bend down and pick it out of the mud with their stout bills. In general, the foraging process is a bit like that of the familiar American Robin.
Recently, I was treated to a show of that distinctive behavior on a mud flat in south Texas.
Like terrestrial Earth Worms, sea worms also have to watch out for birds that want to eat them and use similar strategies to avoid being eaten. One of those strategies is pulling itself back into the ground as quick as possible.
With worm firmly grasped in its bill, the plover wasn’t about to let go so a tug of war ensued.
The plover invested so much of its energy into catching that worm because long distance migration requires a lot of resources. It gets those resources in the form of sea worms and other invertebrates and a big prey item like this one represents a very important catch. The bird in the photos might stay for the winter in south Texas or it might fly much further south to the coasts of Central and South America.