American golden plover (Pluvialis dominica)

Also known as: American golden-plover, lesser golden plover
Synonyms: Pluvialis dominicus
French: Pluvier doré américain
GenusPluvialis (1)
SizeLength: 24 - 28 cm (2) (3)
Wingspan: 57 - 65 cm (2) (4)
Weight122 - 194 g (2)

The American golden plover is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

A medium-sized shorebird with attractive breeding plumage, the American golden plover (Pluvialis dominica) is characterised by its “stop-run-stop” foraging behaviour, in which it runs, stops, catches prey and moves on to the next spot (2) (3) (5).

During the breeding season, the male American golden plover is distinguished by a white stripe that extends from the forehead, over the eyes and around the neck, as well as by the gold and whitish flecks on its otherwise black back. The tail is also black, and the underparts are black from the tail to the face (2) (3) (4) (5). The female American golden plover is drabber than the male, with white mottling on the underparts and face and a subtle brownish tinge to the black feathers (3) (5) (6). However, some females are darker and less mottled, and their breeding plumage more closely resembles that of the male (3) (6).

Outside of the breeding season, both the male and female American golden plover are more greyish, with a white throat and belly (3) (5). The juvenile American golden plover resembles the dull, non-breeding adult, but has greyish-brown barring and spotting on the chest and sides (2) (3) (4) (5) (6). The American golden plover’s bill is short and black, and its legs are greyish to black and relatively long (2) (3).

The song of the American golden plover is a rapid series of abrupt, whistled notes, and it also uses a variety of different calls, including a whistled “tuu-u-ee” (2) (3).

This species was previously considered to be the same species as the Pacific golden plover, Pluvialis fulva (3). However, the American golden plover is slightly larger, with a shorter bill and legs, and the white stripe around its neck extends only as far as the chest, rather than to the tail as in the Pacific golden plover (2) (3).

The American golden plover has one of the longest migratory routes of any bird, breeding in Arctic and sub-Arctic regions of Alaska and Canada before flying offshore and non-stop along the Atlantic coast to its wintering grounds in southern South America. This species winters in southern Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay and as far south as Argentina (2) (3) (6).

The American golden plover has a circular migratory route, returning to its breeding grounds in the north by a mainland route across the South and North American continents (2) (3) (6).

This ground-dwelling species nests in the dry tundra of North America, and in winter prefers the grazed grasslands of South America. During its migration, the American golden plover may also be found on a variety of other habitats, including prairies, pastures, coastal mudflats, estuaries, golf courses, salt marshes and farmland (2) (3) (5).

At the breeding grounds, male American golden plovers are highly territorial, and may return to the same nesting site from year to year. The males begin their display flights soon after arriving. The American golden plover is monogamous, and pair bonds are formed fairly quickly and last throughout the breeding season, although not between years (3) (5).

The male American golden plover builds the nest by creating a scrape in the tundra and lining it with dead plant matter, especially dry grass, lichens and leaves (2) (3) (5). The female lays four eggs in a clutch, and only lays one clutch per year, usually between May and June. Both the male and female American golden plover incubate the eggs, although the female generally incubates at night and the male during the day (3) (5). The eggs are white or off-white, spotted with dark brown and black, and hatch after about 25 days (2) (3).

The young American golden plovers are well developed at hatching, and can feed themselves after only one day (2) (3). Both adults look after the young (3) (5), which are able to fly at around 22 to 23 days old (3), but which lag significantly behind the adults in departing on the autumn migration (3) (6).

In addition to its “stop-run-stop” foraging technique, in which it scans for and captures prey during brief stops (2) (3) (5), the American golden plover also engages in “foot-trembling”. This consists of standing on one foot while the other, held out in front of the body, is trembled against the ground to create vibrations. It is unclear whether the vibrations scare prey items out of hiding or attract them closer to the source of vibration (4). Once prey is sighted, the American golden plover then abruptly pecks at the ground to capture it (2) (3).

The American golden plover typically feeds in open areas or in short vegetation (2), and its diet includes insects, small molluscs and crustaceans. When available, this bird also consumes berries, leaves and seeds (2) (3) (5).

The American golden plover sometimes forms small flocks ranging in size from 50 to 150 individuals, and frequently mixes with grey plovers (Pluvialis squatarola)(4) (5). However, some individuals defend feeding territories on the wintering grounds (3) (5).

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, market and sport hunters targeted American golden plovers, causing a major decline in the population (2) (3) (5) (6). One report cites 48,000 American golden plovers hunted in one day in New Orleans during this period (2) (5). When hunting ended, the population rebounded, but never fully recovered (3) (5) (6).

Although this species has a large range, its wintering grounds in South America are being converted to croplands (3) (6) (7), and its migration stopover sites are being turned into agricultural fields or being urbanised (3) (5) (6). Another concern is whether the American golden plover is exposed to harmful level of pesticides. It is likely that the fields occupied by the birds across the continent are sprayed with pesticides, but there have so far been no studies to investigate the impacts on this species (3) (6) (7).

Although the American golden plover’s Arctic and sub-Arctic breeding grounds are currently relatively safe from human exploitation (3) (5), there is concern that climate change could shift the vegetation structure from low grasses and shrubs to tall vegetation (3) (6).

The American golden plover is not currently considered to be at risk of extinction (8). However, although its overall population trends are unclear, it is believed to be in decline (3) (6).

In 2009, the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) published the first of two versions of a conservation plan for the American golden plover. Primarily, the plan calls for further research to obtain a reliable estimate of the population size and to accurately determine the level of threats faced by the species. Key sites, defined as sites with more than one percent of the American golden plover’s population, should also be legally protected, or new protected reserves should be created (6).

In an effort to keep the American golden plover population from further decline, habitat ‘corridors’ should be protected. These should include areas for future breeding, as climate change is expected to produce a geographical shift in the current breeding areas (6).

The conservation plan for the American golden plover also calls for more environmentally sustainable methods of agriculture and for more public support of certification schemes and best practices for agriculture (6).

Relatively little is known about the American golden plover on its South American wintering grounds, so further research is needed in this region (6). Livestock grazing may be one way of managing the winter grassland areas for the benefit of this species (7).

Find out more about the American golden plover and its conservation:

More information on shorebird conservation in the Americas:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (July, 2011)
  2. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds - American golden-plover (July, 2011)
  3. Johnson, O.W. and Connors, P.G. (2010) American golden-plover (Pluvialis dominica). In: Poole, A. (Ed.) The Birds of North America Online. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca. Available at:
  4. Sibley, D.A. (2003) The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.
  5. Seattle Audubon Society - American golden-plover (July, 2011)
  6. Clay, R.P., Lesterhuis, A.J. and Johnson, O. (2010) Conservation Plan for the American Golden-Plover (Pluvialis dominica). Version 1.1. Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences, Manomet, Massachesetts. Available at:
  7. Johnson, O.W. (2003) Pacific and American golden-plovers: reflections on conservation needs. Wader Study Group Bulletin, 100: 10-13.
  8. BirdLife International - American golden plover (February, 2012)