Hooded plover (Thinornis rubricollis)

Also known as: Hooded dotterel
Synonyms: Charadrius rubricollis
GenusThinornis (1)
SizeLength: 19 – 23 cm (2)
Wingspan: 36 – 44 cm (2)
Weight79 - 110 g (2)

The hooded plover is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The hooded plover (Thinornis rubricollis) is a medium-sized Australian shorebird which gets its name from its prominent black head, which looks like a hood against its white neck and underparts. It also has a distinctive deep red eye-ring and red bill, tipped in black (3). The upper parts are brownish-grey, with a black and white tail, and a noticeable black trailing-edge on the wings (4). Male and female birds are similar, whilst juveniles differ by having a grey head (5). An important feature that distinguishes the hooded plover from other beach-dwelling wading birds is its white nape (the area at the back of the neck), (5). The hooded plover sometimes calls in flight in a deep repeated note, which can be higher-pitched when the bird is agitated (3).

Due to plumage and morphological differences, the hooded plover is sometimes considered to consist of two subspecies; the eastern hooded plover Thinornis rubricollis rubricollis and the western hooded plover Thinornis rubricollis tregellasi. However, the status of the two subspecies cannot be confirmed until the results of a genetic study being carried out are published (6)

The hooded plover occurs only in Australia, in New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia (3).

The hooded plover is found on broad, sandy surf beaches, showing preference for beaches backed by sand dunes, with large amounts of seaweed. In Western Australia they also occur around salt and freshwater lakes that range from close to the coast to inland areas (3) (5).

Hooded plovers can often be found searching on beaches, along high tide water lines, or around coastal lakes for food such as marine worms, molluscs, crustaceans, insects, water plants and seeds (4). Seaweed plays an important part in the life of a hooded plover, as it attracts invertebrates which the plover can then feed on (5). When night falls, they prefer to move to the upper parts of the beach or to the dunes, where they roost. Their nests are made from a shallow depression in the sand, sometimes lined with pebbles, seaweed, sticks or shell fragments (2).

These are territorial birds, which defend an area that can cover up to 1800 m of coastline (6). The main breeding season is between August and March, when a pair of hooded plovers will lay between two to three eggs within their territory, and incubate them for a period of 27 - 31 days (2). This species is known to replace any lost clutches (pers comm.). Within a day or two of hatching the little downy chick will leave the nest, and after fledging, at about 35 days, they will leave their parent’s territory (5). In Western Australia, suitable inland habitat dries out during the summer, and so hooded plover move to coastal areas for this time, where they can be found in flocks (pers comm.).

Unfortunately the preferred coastal habitat of the hooded plover makes it vulnerable to the impact of humans. Dog-walking, horse-riding and driving four-wheel vehicles in sand dunes can all disturb birds when breeding, or crush nests and chicks, and the development of coastal areas for housing, resorts and recreation results in the loss of suitable habitat for breeding and foraging (3) (7). The hooded plover is also threatened by predation by foxes, cats, dogs, silver gulls (Larus novaehollandiae) and ravens (1).

These threats have caused the range of the hooded plover to decrease, and a decline in numbers in eastern parts of its range. It is believed that the decline in numbers has been driven by a low reproductive success, caused by the above threats (1). Recent studies show that due to the low breeding success, populations are likely to continue to decline (7).

The hooded plover is listed as a Vulnerable Species on Schedule 1 of the Commonwealth Endangered Species Protection Act, 1992, which means that it will receive conservation attention through the development of a recovery plan (8). Specific conservation measures that are required to prevent further decline of this species include keeping domestic cats and dogs indoors at night, controlling introduced predators around breeding habitats and preventing the illegal use of vehicles in areas where hooded plover live (3) (4). In addition to this, visitors to beaches in southern Australia should be educated on the importance of undisturbed beaches for hooded plover, and can help by staying away from hooded plovers whenever possible (7).

Find out more about the hooded plover and its conservation:

Information authenticated (03/05/07) by Marcus Singor, Chairperson, Hooded Plover Project, Birds Australia.

  1. IUCN Red List (August, 2012)
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1996) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Vol. 3: Hoatzin to Auks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (April, 2007)
  4. NSW Department of Environment and Conservation (April, 2007)
  5. Weston, M.A. (2003) Managing the Hooded Plover in Victoria, a Review of Existing Information, Parks Victoria Technical Series No. 4. Parks Victoria, Melbourne. Available at:
  6. Australian Government: Department of the Environment and Water Resources (April, 2007)
  7. Birds Australia (April, 2007)
  8. Australian Government: Department of the Environment and Water Resources (April, 2007)