Red-capped plover (Charadrius ruficapillus)

Also known as: red-capped dotterel, red-capped sandplover, red-necked dotterel, sand lark
GenusCharadrius (1)
SizeLength: 14 - 16 cm (2) (3) (4)
Wingspan: 27 - 34 cm (2)
Weight27 - 54 g (2)
Top facts

The red-capped plover is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

A small, slender Australian shorebird (2) (3) (4), the red-capped plover (Charadrius ruficapillus) is most easily recognised by the male’s bright reddish-brown crown. This reddish cap extends onto the back of the neck, and contrasts with the otherwise greyish-brown upperparts and white underparts (3) (4). The centre of the crown may sometimes be greyish-brown (4).

The male red-capped plover has a white face and forehead and a white stripe above the eye, with the white being separated from the reddish-brown crown by a narrow black line. There is also a black line running through the eye, and a short black bar on the side of the breast (3) (4) (5). A white wing bar is conspicuous in flight, as are the white sides to the otherwise dark tail (3) (4).

The female red-capped plover is generally slightly duller than the male, with a greyish-brown centre to the crown (2) (3) (4), and usually has brownish markings instead of black (3) (5). Both the male and female red-capped plover have short, dark legs, brown eyes and a short, fine, black bill (3) (4). Outside of the breeding season, the adults’ head pattern generally becomes duller (2) (4) and the feathers on the upperparts have buff fringes (2).

Juvenile red-capped plovers resemble the non-breeding adults, but lack any reddish-brown or black colouration, having brown markings instead. The juvenile’s upperparts are more buffy brown than in the adult and have a somewhat scaly appearance (2) (3) (4). The chicks of the red-capped plover are white below and cream-coloured above, with brownish-black blotches and speckles (2).

The red-capped plover gives a range of calls, including a quiet ‘wit’ in flight, a buzzing ‘pzzt’ and a sharper ‘kittup’. During the breeding season, this species also gives a more melodic ‘poowit’, as well as short, purring trills (3) (4).

The red-capped plover is endemic to Australia, where it is found in all areas except the arid interior (2) (3). This species has also been reported on Timor-Leste (6), and is an occasional vagrant to New Zealand (2) (4) (6), where it appears to have occasionally bred in the past (2) (4).

Although it is not migratory (4), the red-capped plover may sometimes move around in response to rainfall, drought and the availability of food (2).

The red-capped plover can be found in a variety of coastal habitats, including sandy or shell beaches near muddy or sandy flats, as well as around salt marshes, intertidal mudflats and salt pans. This small plover also occurs at inland wetlands, including brackish lakes and sewage ponds (2) (3) (4). It is less commonly seen around freshwater rivers and lakes (3) (4).

The red-capped plover typically feeds on areas of bare mud or sand, and rarely enters the water (3).

The diet of the red-capped plover includes a range of worms, molluscs, small crustaceans, marine and terrestrial insects, and a small amount of seeds and vegetation (2) (5). This species feeds in typical plover style, running around rapidly and searching for prey by sight (2) (4). It often forages in small groups, but larger flocks numbering into the hundreds may form after the breeding season (2) (3) (4).

In coastal areas, the breeding season of the red-capped plover runs from July to January, but in inland areas it often breeds in response to rainfall (2). Breeding pairs may nest alone or in small, loose colonies (2), with each pair defending a small breeding territory (2) (4).

The red-capped plover’s nest is a shallow scrape in the ground, built on sand, shells, seaweed or mud in areas of bare or sparsely vegetated ground, usually quite close to water. The nest may sometimes be lined with small pebbles, shells, plant material or other debris (2) (3) (5).

The red-capped plover lays between 1 and 3 eggs, which are incubated for 30 to 31 days, mainly by the female (2) (5). Both adults defend the nest and young (5), and if approached by a potential predator they may give a ‘broken wing’ display, feigning injury to lure the predator away from the nest (3). The red-capped plover is known to use water to help regulate the temperature of its eggs, by draping its damp breast feathers over the clutch (3).

The chicks of the red-capped plover are cared for by both adults. The age at which the young birds are able to fly and the age at which they start to breed are not known. This species may potentially live for up to six years (2).

The red-capped plover is abundant and widespread, and is not currently considered to be at risk of extinction (6). However, it may face some localised threats in parts of its range, including development of coastal habitats, as well as disturbance of breeding beaches and sand dunes by human visitors, dogs and off-road vehicles (2) (5). Nests are also sometimes flooded by irrigation works, and eggs may be trampled by livestock or by humans (2).

In addition, introduced predators such as foxes, cats and rats may potentially pose a threat to the red-capped plover and its eggs and chicks, while introduced plants can alter sand dune habitats, making them unsuitable for nesting (5).

There are not known to be any specific conservation measures currently in place for the red-capped plover. However, in some areas it is likely to benefit from general conservation measures aimed at beach-nesting shorebirds. For example, at Yorke Peninsula in South Australia, beach-nesting shorebirds such as the red-capped plover are regularly monitored, and a number of measures have been recommended to protect them. These include fences to prevent vehicle access, signs to direct visitors away from nesting areas, and keeping dogs on leads. In addition, native grasses should also be used to control sand dune erosion, rather than non-native plants (5).

Find out more about the red-capped plover and its conservation:

More information on conservation in Australia:

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 (September, 2012)
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1996) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 3: Hoatzin to Auks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. Geering, A., Agnew, L. and Harding, S. (2007) Shorebirds of Australia. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.
  4. Hayman, P., Marchant, J. and Prater, T. (2011) Shorebirds. A&C Black Publishers, London.
  5. Furbank, D. (2010) Briefing Note on Beach Nesting Shorebirds. Yorke Peninsula Natural Resource Management Group and Department of Environment and Natural Resources, South Australia. Available at:
  6. BirdLife International (September, 2012)