Bird Watcher's General Store

It's Plover, Not Pl"O"ver - 08/04/06


Dear Bird Folks,

Maybe you can answer this question for me. One of the most talked about birds in our area is the Piping Plover. I don't know much about the bird except that everyone seems to hate it. My question has nothing to do with the bird itself, but rather its name. One of my teachers at school pronounces plover, with the long "o" sound, while my father swears that plover has a short "o". Which pronunciation is correct?

- Casey, 7th grade, Orleans, MA

Not me Casey,

You aren't going to trick me into writing a column about Piping Plovers. We really don't need another plover story. Plovers are in the paper more than stories about Brad and Angelina's baby. Plus, the last thing I want to do is upset the ORV crowd. I don't want to wake up to find the head of a Winnebago at the foot of my bed, again. But it is amazing that this tiny bird, about the size of a Twinkie, is so totally encased in controversy that people are even fighting about how to say its name. Perhaps if we moved Piping Plovers to the Middle East the people would turn their anger towards the bird and forget about hating each other for a while. It's worth a try. I'm sure the ORV crowd would be happy.

You might not know this, Casey, but your father is a very, very smart man. Your teacher is probably smart as well, just not in this case. The plover part of Piping Plover, or any other kind of plover, is pronounced with a short "o" sound. The word is plover, not plOver. It rhymes with lover. In fact, we used to sell a T-shirt with an image of two plovers in the foreground and in the background there was the silhouette of a couple holding hands. The line on the bottom of the shirt read "Cape Cod is for Plovers." It was a takeoff on the "Virginia is for lovers" ad campaign. The shirt was a hit. We sold quite a few of them. Unfortunately, the guy who made the shirt mysteriously disappeared. Rumor has it that he was last seen in the trunk of an ORV.

Now before you start gloating that your father was right and your teacher was wrong, keep in mind that, according to the dictionary, even though plover is the preferred pronunciation, plOver is also acceptable. So don't go too crazy with your bragging. Also, my wife, who is also a school teacher, would like you to know that teachers work very hard and would never intentionally steer you wrong. I couldn't agree more. There, that should keep me from having to sleep on the couch for at least a few nights.

I think it's interesting that you mentioned that everyone "hates" the little Piping Plovers. My own teenage daughter told me the exact same thing last week. "I hate those plovers" she randomly blurted out. When I asked her why, she said "because they close the beach." That should tell you how much we are affected by the media or hearsay. First of all, as much as I hate to admit it, my daughter wouldn't know a plover if she was married to one. It's strange that she hates something that she doesn't know anything about. As far as her being upset that the beach is closed, she rarely ever goes to the beach. That would require her shutting off the TV and going outside. Neither is going to happen.

Well, the fact is plovers don't cause the beach to be closed. Everyone can still use the beach anytime they want, we just can't always drive on it. Truck tires and flightless baby birds don't mix well. However, we are all still allowed to take a boat or walk to our favorite spot. I think the dreaded "walk" word is probably what my daughter finds most upsetting. In her mind no teenager of the 21st century should be subjected to walking.

Unfortunately, for those people who like to drive the beach, there are going to be periods each year when they won't be able to drive to their favorite spot. Annoying and frustrating for sure, but it seems like a small price to pay to prevent the extinction of a species that has called Cape Cod home for centuries. How many of us, who have heard the story of the Passenger Pigeon, have wondered "Why didn't they do something before it was too late?" Well, in this case they are doing something. It just isn't sitting well with everyone.

There isn't any reason to hate the Piping Plovers, Casey. I'm sure they aren't real thrilled about being on the extinction list either. There also isn't any reason to ever call a plover a "plOver" again. Just don't rub that into the face of your 7th grade teacher or you could be in the 7th grade for many years to come.



Artwork by Catherine Clark


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