The Dotterel

The Bird's Plumage and Name

Dotterel Plumage and the Bird's Name

Dotterel Behaviour and Food

Dotterel Courtship Display, Nest and Chicks

Dotterel Habitat, Breeding Areas and Migration

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The name of the Dotterel (variously spelt) comes from the diminutive of Dolt.  This bird is so-called from its alleged stupidity, many old writers having asserted that if the fowler stretched out his arm or his leg, so did the the Dotterel with its homologous limb. So prone is mankind to believe any silly story of what it is the custom to call "Animal Instinct," that this foolish notion prevails to the present day among many people. Yet the true meaning was told to Willughby in or before 1676: one Peter Dent, a Cambridge apothecary, having written to him the information supplied by a gentleman of Norfolk well acquainted with the "sport" of catching these birds, to the effect that instead of their aping the gestures of humans, it was the humans who aped those of the birds, as the latter were being driven into the nets; for, as everyone who has watched the actions of Limicolae must know, it is their common habit as they run to extend a wing and often simultaneously a leg. This belief in the foolishness of the species has been fostered also by its name morinellus, bestowed by Caius with a double meaning - being a diminutive of morus, a fool, and having reference to Morini, the ancient name of the people of Flanders, where he had found the bird common (De rar. Anim. atque Stirp. Hist. Londini: 1570, fol. 21).

The name Dotterel has often sometimes been inappropriately applied, with or without a prefix, to the Ringed Plover, Charadrius hiaticula, and some of its relations.  The Dotterel's scientific latin name is Charadrius morinellus or Eudromias morinellus, and it is one of the most beautiful of the PLOVER-kind.  For a long time, even up to the 19th century, it had the credit of being a delicacy for the table in Great Britain, and was moreover lain under the disadvantage of being thought to be in better condition in spring, or early summer, when it arrived in Britain on its way to its breeding-quarters than when it was returning southward in autumn.  Consequently it was for years ruthlessly shot down at the time when its life was most precious for the continuance of its species, and with the result of a severe reduction in numbers that always attends such brutal practice.

Dotterel Plumage and Appearance

The Dotterel is somewhat smaller than a blackbird, but has quite long, yellow legs.  The overall length of the Dotterel from bill point to the tail point amounts to an average of between 21 to 24 centimeters. There is no difference in size between the two genders. Each wing measures about 15 centimeters, with a total wingspan of approximately 60 centimeters. The short tail is around 7 centimeters long, and the bill is somewhat over 1.5 centimeters long. Adult males weigh approximately 100 grams, whereas the females are somewhat heavier at around 120 grams. Chicks weigh less than 20 grams at the age of three days, and ar about 70 grams in weight after 14 days.

In the breeding season the species is unmistakable.  The most important characteristic in the splendid multicolored plumage is the broad white streak over the eye running to the back of the head where the white strips from each side of the head form a V. The top of the head is black, and the throat is white. There is also a thin horizontal strip of white running across the chest area.  This strip separates the slate-grey neck and neck from the bright rust-red and blackish belly.  The back and wings are brown with clearly brighter edges of the individual feathers. The female is somewhat more intensively colored with higher contrasts.  Outside of the Breeding season all colors fade, in particular those of the belly which becomes a yellowish or whiteish colour.  Also the chest ring is not clearly recognizable any longer, so there becomes quite a danger of mistaking the Dotterel  with Golden Plovers like the American Golden Plover (Pluvialis dominica), as well as the Caspian plover (Charadrius asiaticus). The plumage of young birds is very similar to the non-breeding season plumage of the adult birds.

Next...Dotterel Behaviour and Food .

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