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.