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The Incredible Journey of the American Golden-Plover: Discovering Its Behaviors Plumages and Demography

American Golden-Plover, scientifically known as Pluvialis dominica, is a migratory bird that breeds in the Arctic tundra and winters in South America. This charismatic bird has a unique appearance and several distinct plumages that all birdwatchers should learn to identify.

In this article, we will delve into the identification, similar species, plumages, and molts of the American Golden-Plover. Identification:

American Golden-Plover is a medium-sized bird that measures around 9-10 inches in length and has a wingspan of about 24 inches.

It has a blackish-brown head, neck, and upperparts with scattered golden spots. Its underparts are white with brownish-black spots on the chest and flanks.

The bill is short, and the legs are black; this bird has a distinctive black patch underneath its eyes. Field Identification:

American Golden-Plovers are notorious for their fast-flight and their distinct call that sounds like a “tu-weet” or “pleee-u.” When in the breeding and winter habitat, they can be seen on beaches, mudflats, and wet fields.

Plus, they are often found in flocks that may consist of other shorebirds. Similar Species:

American Golden-Plover may look similar to other shorebirds, namely Wilson’s Snipe, Ruddy Turnstone, and Pectoral Sandpiper.

However, Wilson’s Snipe is much larger than American Golden-Plover and has a longer bill, while Ruddy Turnstone has a shorter bill, and its chest is patchy black. Finally, Pectoral Sandpiper is smaller than American Golden-Plover and has a white rump with streaks as well as a dark patch on its shoulders.


American Golden-Plover has a unique appearance, with several plumages that bird enthusiasts should learn to identify. Its breeding plumage is more striking than its non-breeding plumage.

In the breeding season, it has a blackish head, neck, and breast that contrasts with its speckled golden-brown body feathers. In contrast, its non-breeding plumage is duller and lacks the blackish head, neck, and breast.


Birds change their feathers to maintain their plumages through molts. American Golden-Plovers have two primary molts, namely pre-basic and pre-alternate.

During the pre-basic molt, which occurs in the late summer or early fall, American Golden-Plover replaces all its feathers, including flight feathers. During the pre-alternate molt, which occurs in the breeding grounds, it renew the feathers on the head, neck, and breast.

In conclusion, American Golden-Plover is a fascinating bird that has several plumages and molts that all birdwatchers should learn to identify. If you’re new to birdwatching or want to enhance your birding skills, learning to identify American Golden-Plover accurately is an excellent starter.

Always remember to respect and observe these birds from afar and not to harm or disturb them in their natural habitat. Systematics History:

The American Golden-Plover has had a complex history in terms of systematics and classification.

Originally, it was classified as belonging to the genus Charadrius, along with other plovers. Later, it was placed in the genus Pluvialis, which it still belongs to today.

Recent genetic studies have shown that the American Golden-Plover is genetically distinct from other plovers and may deserve its own genus. Geographic Variation:

The American Golden-Plover shows considerable geographic variation across its range.

Birds from the Arctic breeding grounds are larger and have longer bills than birds from the southern wintering grounds. In addition, birds from the eastern Atlantic population are larger and have longer bills than birds from the western Atlantic population.


Currently, there are six recognized subspecies of the American Golden-Plover, which are primarily based on differences in size and plumage. These subspecies are:


Pluvialis dominica dominica: breeds in the Canadian Arctic and winters in northern South America. 2.

Pluvialis dominica fulva: breeds in the Alaskan Arctic and winters in South America. 3.

Pluvialis dominica dominica/pascalis intergrades: breeds in the central Arctic and winters in southern South America. 4.

Pluvialis dominica morinella: breeds in eastern Siberia and winters in Southeast Asia and Australia. 5.

Pluvialis dominica cearaensis: breeds in northeastern Brazil and is a non-migratory resident. 6.

Pluvialis dominica helva: breeds in Iceland and winters in Western Europe and Africa. Related species:

The American Golden-Plover is part of a complex of plovers that includes the Pacific Golden-Plover and the Eurasian Golden-Plover.

All three species are similar in appearance, but they have distinct differences in plumage and vocalizations. The Pacific Golden-Plover is darker and more heavily marked than the American Golden-Plover, and it has a distinctive call that sounds like “klee-oo.” The Eurasian Golden-Plover is the most similar to the American Golden-Plover but has a different breeding range than the American Golden-Plover.

Historical changes to distribution:

The American Golden-Plover has experienced significant historical changes to its distribution. In the early 20th century, hunting and habitat destruction in the United States caused a decline in American Golden-Plover populations.

In response, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was passed in 1918, which prohibited the hunting of migratory birds and helped protect the American Golden-Plover and other species.

In addition to habitat destruction and hunting, climate change is also affecting the American Golden-Plover.

Changing temperatures and precipitation patterns are altering the timing of breeding and migration for many bird species, including the American Golden-Plover. The earlier onset of spring is causing some birds to advance their breeding, while others are unable to adapt quickly enough.

In addition, sea-level rise and coastal erosion are threatening the American Golden-Plover’s wintering habitats. In conclusion, the American Golden-Plover is a species with a complex systematics history, considerable geographic variation, and six distinct subspecies.

It is part of a closely related group of plovers that includes the Pacific and Eurasian Golden-Plovers. Finally, it has experienced historical changes to its distribution due to hunting, habitat destruction, and more recently, climate change.

Conservation measures such as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act have helped to protect the American Golden-Plover and prevent further declines in its populations. Habitat:

The American Golden-Plover is a bird of open habitats and tundra environments.

During breeding season, they inhabit the Arctic tundra and nearby scrubby habitats with low shrubs. They prefer well-drained damp meadows, bogs, or heathland habitats that are situated in areas with no trees.

American Golden-Plovers often breed in isolated patches, in wet surroundings on rough uplands, inland from the shores of northern coastal regions. While wintering in non-breeding areas, they are usually found on coastal intertidal mudflats, where they exploit the rich food resources provided by these environments.

Shorelines with vegetation, nearby shallow water and sedge marshes are also favorable habitats for them. Movements and Migration:

The American Golden-Plover has one of the longest migratory journeys of all North American shorebirds, as they undertake annual migrations between their Arctic breeding grounds and their non-breeding grounds in South America.

The migration journey includes flying over some of the worlds most treacherous oceans, with a six thousand miles nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean. The American Golden-Plover has an impressive migratory capacity, which allows them to undertake long flights and cover great distances, often within a span of three to four weeks or more.

Adults migrate south first, leaving the Arctic breeding grounds between July and early September, while juveniles and sub-adults follow later. At the end of the winter, they return to their breeding grounds.

The migratory journey of the American Golden-Plover is variable, and individuals take different routes and stop in different areas along the way. Birds that breed in Alaska and the western Arctic will often stop over in the Great Plains region to rest and feed before continuing to their non-breeding grounds.

Birds that breed in the eastern Arctic will often stop over along the Atlantic coast of North America and then travel across the Atlantic to South America. Birds that breed in eastern Siberia will fly south across Asia and into Australasia before continuing to their wintering areas in Southeast Asia and Australia.

Some non-breeding birds also remain in northern Colombia and Venezuela. During migration, American Golden-Plovers depend on a variety of habitats, such as coastal wetlands, salt ponds, mudflats, agricultural fields, and other areas that provide food and shelter.

The stopover locations are critical for refueling and resting, and they depend on having enough food and clean freshwater. In many cases, birds can remain in the same stopover sites for several weeks before continuing on their journey.

In conclusion, the American Golden-Plover and its migratory activity exhibit impressive abilities to cover long distances, traverse challenging terrain, and survive in a variety of environments. Understanding their habitat requirements and movements is crucial to conserving this beautiful species.

Protecting their breeding and non-breeding habitats, reducing disturbance at stop-over sites, and ensuring their food resources are preserved are all essential components of conserving the American Golden-Plover. Being aware of the ongoing challenges and risks they face during their migratory journeys is also vital to the survival of this bird species.

Diet and Foraging:


The American Golden-Plover feeds mainly on invertebrates such as insects, crustaceans, and mollusks. They use a variety of different foraging techniques to capture their prey, including probing, pecking, and gleaning.


During the breeding season, American Golden-Plovers feed on a variety of arthropods, including beetles, flies, grasshoppers, and spiders. During migration and wintering, their diet becomes more diverse and includes marine invertebrates such as crabs, worms, and clams.

They also eat terrestrial invertebrates, such as ants, beetles, and caterpillars, found in freshwater habitats, mudflats, and fields. Metabolism and Temperature Regulation:

Due to their long migrations, American Golden-Plovers are expert at conserving energy when needed.

They have specific physiological mechanisms to help regulate body temperature and metabolism, which are crucial during times of high energy expenditure. One such mechanism is torpor, where the bird will reduce its metabolic rate, lower its body temperature and heart rate, and spend prolonged periods with minimal movement.

This ability to enter torpor enables American Golden-Plovers to maintain their energy levels during arduous migratory journeys, where food and water may be scarce. Sounds and Vocal Behavior:


American Golden-Plovers have a distinctive call that can be heard during both breeding and migration seasons.

Their call is a two-note whistle, which is often described as sounding like “tu-weet” or “pleee-u.” Males have a higher-pitched call than females. During the breeding season, males use this call while engaged in courtship displays, where they will perform flight displays or flight-song displays.

Flight-song displays involve ascending flights while calling, followed by a descent with silent wings. These courtship displays are essential in mate selection and pairing.

During the non-breeding season, American Golden-Plovers use their calls for communication and defense. In summary, the American Golden-Plover’s foraging habits and diet are well-suited for its life in tundra environments, allowing for maximal energy consumption during migration.

Furthermore, the adaptation of physiological mechanisms such as torpor enables this species to maximize energy efficiency while ensuring the success of its long journeys. Moreover, the plover’s call serves a crucial role in communication and mate selection.

The American Golden-Plover, like many other species, has evolved both physical and behavioral adaptations to better survive and thrive in its unique environment. This trait of remarkable adaptability is one of the reasons why the American Golden-Plover remains one of the most intriguing bird species to study today.



American Golden-Plovers are medium to fast-moving birds, especially during migration, when they fly at a rapid speed. Their mode of locomotion typically involves running, walking, or taking short flights to move around during foraging.

During breeding season, males perform elaborate aerial displays consisting of zigzagging flights, calling, and circling overhead. Also, females often call back to males as they glide through the air or on the ground.


American Golden-Plovers maintain their feathers by regularly sunbathing to rid themselves of parasites. They spend long stretches of time bathing and preening, fluffing and grooming their feathers, to keep them in pristine condition.

Through these activities, they also help build and maintain their social ties as they communally preen with their mates or flockmates. Agonistic Behavior:

American Golden-Plovers’ agonistic behavior involves either defensive territorial behavior or competitive displays over potential mates.

Males engage in flight displays with each other, which involve chasing, diving, and calling. These displays are typically not violent, but instead, are displays of dominance or territorial aggression.

During breeding season, males establish territories by performing aerial displays and may chase intruders out of their territories. Similarly, during migration and wintering, they’re often observed squabbling, and dominant individuals displace weaker ones.

Sexual Behavior:

American Golden-Plover has a polygynous mating system, with males competing for several females. It is not entirely uncommon to find males displaying for multiple females simultaneously.

These displays usually take place in the air and on the ground, and males use various complex displays to attract and mate with females. Breeding:

American Golden-Plovers are monogamous during each breeding season, and both sexes participate in nest building and rearing of the young.

The breeding season varies depending on the location, but typically takes place from late May to early June in their Canadian breeding grounds. Nests are circular depressions in the ground, and they are usually situated in a shallow depression with little vegetation to conceal their location from predators.

Demography and Populations:

The American Golden-Plover population is generally stable, and it has an estimated world population of around 750,000 to 1.8 million individuals. In the past, hunting and habitat destruction caused population declines.

However, the establishment of international conservation measures, such as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals has helped recover populations of this species. Currently, habitat loss and degradation due to climate change and sea-level rise are the primary threats to their populations.

Nevertheless, American Golden-Plover populations continue to remain healthy in most parts of their range.

In conclusion, American Golden-Plovers exhibit a variety of fascinating behaviors, such as their locomotion during migration, self-maintenance practices, and their agonistic and sexual behaviors when competing for mates.

They have a polygynous mating system and participate equally in nest-building and rearing their young. The population of American Golden-Plover is stable, and they continue to thrive, largely thanks to conservation efforts.

As with many migratory bird species, continued monitoring and habitat conservation efforts are necessary to ensure they continue to remain healthy for future generations. In summary, this article has addressed several aspects of the American Golden-Plover, covering various topics from its systematics history, habitat, movements and migration, diet, and foraging behavior to behavior, breeding, demography, and populations.

By examining these topics and behaviors, this article reveals the incredible adaptability, resilience, and evolutionary significance of the American Golden-Plover as a migratory bird species. Furthermore, understanding the bird’s behavior and ecology is critical to developing informed conservation strategies for its long-term survival.

Continued protection of this species’ critical habitats and the promotion of international conservation efforts will play an essential role in securing the future of the American Golden-Plover and the survival of this species for future generations.

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