Common ringed plover (Charadrius hiaticula)

Also known as: ringed plover
French: Grand Gravelot
GenusCharadrius (1)
SizeLength: 18 – 20 cm (2)
Wingspan: 48 – 57 cm (2)
Weight42 – 78 g (2)
Top facts

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

One of the most familiar wading birds on European shores, the common ringed plover (Charadrius hiaticula) has a typical plover appearance with bold black and white markings (3). A black band runs around the breast and hindneck, and another runs across the cheeks, through the eyes and over the forehead. The underparts are a contrasting white, while the upperparts are a camouflaged brownish-grey (3). A yellow ring surrounds each eye and the short beak is bright orange with a black tip (2) (3). The sexes are similar in appearance, although the breast band is usually tinged with brown on the female, but juveniles are cryptically patterned with brown and black speckling (2) (4). The common ringed plover is a somewhat small and dumpy bird, with short legs, a round head, large eyes and a robust, compact body (2) (3) (4). Like other members of the Charadriidae family, a group of birds which includes the plovers, lapwings and dotterels, this bird forages in a distinct way: standing and watching, running forward and pecking, and then standing and watching again (4). 

The common ringed plover has a widespread distribution across northern latitudes, from northeast Canada eastwards to northern Russia. Populations in the British Isles and Western Europe may be resident year-round, but populations elsewhere migrate southwards during the winter to Europe, Africa, the Caspian Sea, Southwest Asia and the Chagos Islands, before returning to breed in summer months (5) (6). The subspecies Charadrius hiaticula hiaticula ranges from northeastern Canada, through Greenland and Iceland to southern Scandinavia and northwestern France, wintering in the British Isles and southern Africa. C. h. tundrae ranges from northern Scandinavia to northern Russia, and winters at the Caspian Sea, Southwest Asia and southern Africa (2) (6). 

Outside the breeding season, the common ringed plover may be found in a variety of wetland habitats, including muddy, sandy or pebble coasts, mudflats, estuaries, lagoons, saltmarshes, grasslands and the sandbanks of rivers and lakes. It may also inhabit a number of artificial habitats, such as gravel pits, farmlands, reservoirs, sewage works and saltpans. At northern latitudes, this species breeds mainly on sand or shingle beaches along the Arctic coast, or around coastal tundra pools and lakes, but in southern areas of its range it will breed on grasslands, farmland and on the sandbars of inland rivers, lakes, gravel pits and reservoirs (5).

The common ringed plover forages on open ground, at both day and night, for a variety of invertebrates, including crustaceans, isopods and various insects (2) (5). Relying heavily on its strong eyesight to locate its prey, food is plucked from on or close to the surface with its short beak (4). Underground prey is enticed to come to the surface by ‘foot-trembling’, whereby the bird stands on one foot and rapidly taps the other on the ground, imitating the vibrations of rainfall (2) (4). Small feeding territories may be defended from other plovers, particularly on intertidal flats which are rich in food, but when not foraging, birds congregate to roost together, often close to the feeding ground just above the high water mark (2) (5). Usually the common ringed plover collects into small flocks of up to 50, but on occasions large groups of between 1,200 and 1,500 birds have been seen (2) (5).   

Eggs are laid between April and mid-July in a nest which is no more than a shallow scrape in the ground lined with pebbles and vegetation (2). The nests are usually fairly isolated from others, but in areas with high food abundance, the nests may be arranged in loose groups, with between 5 and 100 metres between each one (2) (5). There is a high degree of site fidelity, meaning that more often than not, breeding birds will return to the same area to nest each year (2). The parents are extremely aggressive around the nest and will fiercely defend it by calling loudly and swooping at intruders (4). Usually four eggs are laid per brood, at intervals of one to three days, and are subsequently incubated by both the male and female for some 21 to 27 days. The chicks fledge after around 24 days in the nest, but few survive past their first year, although those that do may live to 10 years of age (2).

The common ringed plover has an extremely large range and a large population, with more than 120,000 breeding pairs in Europe alone, and consequently is not currently considered at risk of extinction (5) (7). However, this species might be in decline, with significant decreases noted in a number of countries between 1990 and 2000 (7). This may be attributed to the conversion of wetland habitats to agriculture, the reclamation of coastal areas, disturbance of birds, and predation by feral American mink (Mustela vison) (4) (5). Important migratory stop-over habitats on islands in the Baltic Sea are also threatened by pollution, wetland drainage and changing land management practices leading to scrub overgrowth, and the loss of major foraging areas needed by the birds to refuel during their epic journey (4) (5). The common ringed plover is also vulnerable to any future outbreaks of avian botulism, a fatal disease caused by the ingestion of the bacterium Clostridium botulinum that can cause mass mortality in wildfowl (8).   

Along with many other waterfowl species, the common ringed plover is benefiting from changes in government and public attitudes towards shorebirds, which is increasingly recognising the vital role that they play in maintaining the dynamic, yet finely balanced coastal ecosystem. This shift in sentiment is a result of the growing concern for the need for conservation, but also due to the important relationship between shorebirds and fisheries, which has crucial economic consequences (4). Some of the common ringed plover’s habitat is also protected in countries that are signatories of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, and the European Economic Community Directive on Conservation of Birds, which requires the designation of habitats of conservation importance, especially wetlands, and highlights the need for further research (4) (9) (10).  

For more information on the conservation of plovers, see:

To find out about conservation on the Chagos Islands, see:

For more information on this and other bird species please see:

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 (June, 2010)
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (2001) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 3: Hoatzin to Auks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (June, 2010)
  4. Perrins, C. (2009) The Encyclopedia of Birds. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  5. BirdLife International (June, 2010)
  6. The Critical Site Network Tool (June, 2010)
  7. BirdLife International. (2004) Birds in Europe: Population Estimates, Trends and Conservation Status. NHBS, Totnes.
  8. AvianWeb (June, 2010)
  9. The Ramsar Convention of Wetlands (June, 2010)
  10. The EC Birds Directive (June, 2010)