Pluvialis dominicaAmerican golden plover

Geographic Range

In summer months American golden plovers migrate from South America to Hudson Bay, northern Alaska, and Baffin island, their breeding grounds. They have also been spotted in Labrador, Nova Scotia, and Quebec. American golden plovers arrive on their summer grounds in mid-May. In the fall American golden plovers travel to Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil for the winter. (Byrkjedal, 1998; Cornell Lab of Ornithology, 2004; National Audubon Society, 2005; Robbins, et al., 1983; Sibley, 2001; Thompson and Byrkjedal, 2001)


American golden plovers live in temperate, grassland areas. In winter, American golden plovers are found along the Rio de la Plata in the surrounding grasslands. In spring they migrate to arctic tundra regions. (Byrkjedal, 1998; National Audubon Society, 2005; Robbins, et al., 1983; Sibley, 2001)

Physical Description

American golden plovers closely resemble Pacific golden plovers (Pulvialis fulva), and the two were originally thought to be the same species. Both have wing undersides that are a grey-brown color and their wings are almost identical in size. American golden plovers have a longer, thinner body with a shorter neck and larger head, a tibia that is shorter than its bill, and a shorter bill relative to head size than Pacific golden plovers. (Byrkjedal, 1998; Cornell Lab of Ornithology, 2004; Gough, et al., 1998; National Audubon Society, 2005; Sibley, 2000; Sibley, 2001; Sibley, 2003a)

American golden plovers weigh between 122 and 194 g, averaging 144.6 g. They are 23 to 30 cm in length, and have a wingspan of 45.7 to 66.0 cm with average wingspan being 50.8 cm across. (Byrkjedal, 1998; Cornell Lab of Ornithology, 2004; Gough, et al., 1998; Robbins, et al., 1966; Robbins, et al., 1983; Sibley, 2000; Sibley, 2001; Sibley, 2003a; Sibley, 2003b)

American golden plovers resemble black-bellied plovers (Pulvialis squatarola) in coloration during the winter breeding season, although they are more golden in color. They are speckled grey and white on their underside (more grey than black-bellied plovers), and are speckled golden, white, and black on the head, back, and tail feathers. In the non-breeding season, American golden plovers appear more golden on their back and head. They lack a wing stripe and males are slightly more colorful than females. (Byrkjedal, 1998; Cornell Lab of Ornithology, 2004; Gough, et al., 1998; Robbins, et al., 1966; Robbins, et al., 1983; Sibley, 2000; Sibley, 2001; Sibley, 2003a; Thompson and Byrkjedal, 2001)

Juvenile stage first non-breeding year plumage is a mix of juvenile and adult-like feathers after a post-juvenile moult. The first pre-breeding feathers look similar to adults after a moult occurs to replace the tail and body feathers of the first non-breeding feathers. American golden plovers have a post-breeding moult, replacing their breeding plumage with an eclipse plumage. This eclipse plumage replaces breeding plumage when they reach their southern wintering grounds. Eclipse plumage is more yellow and brown in color. Females retain more of their winter feathers than males. Males grow new tertials and wing coverts, and females do not. This is why males are brighter in color than females. On their northwards migration in spring, they begin to moult into breeding plumage. (Byrkjedal, 1998; Robbins, et al., 1966; Robbins, et al., 1983; Sibley, 2000; Sibley, 2001; Sibley, 2003a; Sibley, 2003b; Thompson and Byrkjedal, 2001)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male more colorful
  • Range mass
    122 to 194 g
    4.30 to 6.84 oz
  • Average mass
    144.6 g
    5.10 oz
  • Range length
    23 to 30 cm
    9.06 to 11.81 in
  • Average length
    26 cm
    10.24 in
  • Range wingspan
    45.7 to 66.0 cm
    17.99 to 25.98 in
  • Average wingspan
    50.8 cm
    20.00 in
  • Range basal metabolic rate
    unknown to unknown cm3.O2/g/hr
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    unknown cm3.O2/g/hr


In late April, American golden plovers engage in what is known as "torpedo runs." This occurs within the first few days of reaching their breeding territory. Males will chase a female while exhibiting a series of winglifts accompanied by trill sounds. The male will separate a female from other members of the group, and will fight off any males who come near. "Torpedo runs" are used both for courtship and as a aggressive maneuver. There is no identifiable difference between chases used in courtship and those used in an aggressive manner. (Byrkjedal, 1998)

All male plovers also perform flight songs when first arriving at breeding grounds. These flight songs are used to attract a mate. There are few characterstics that distinguish the flight songs of American golden plovers from those of Pacific golden plovers (P. fulva). However, Pacific golden plovers descend smoothly and softly while American golden plovers decend steeply and quickly. Their song can be recognized because it has four, short tones, and is thought to sound like "clicking." The song is performed quickly and repetitively. Other tundra plovers have less tones in their songs and perform longer, both in tonation and in invervals between tones. All tundra plover species' flights have a common main component called "butterfly flight" in which the male will move his wings in "slow, jerky, and stiff wingbeats." (Byrkjedal, 1998; Cornell Lab of Ornithology, 2004; Sibley, 2001; Sibley, 2003a; Sibley, 2003b; Thompson and Byrkjedal, 2001)

American golden plovers are monogamous, mating with only one other individual. (Byrkjedal, 1998; National Audubon Society, 2005; Thompson and Byrkjedal, 2001)

Breeding begins shortly after arriving on breeding territory and eggs are laid a few weeks later. American golden plovers build nests on the Arctic coast in tundra areas. Nests built in areas with lichen are less likely to be destroyed by predators. Nests are built on uniform surroundings that help camouflage the nest. Nests are the smallest built by any tundra plover species. A female lays 1 to 4 eggs (the average is 4) in June. Each egg is large and weighs almost 20% of the female's body weight. The eggs are creme or white in colored with brown and black spots. The eggs hatch 22 to 30 days after being layed. Fledging occurs approximately 22 days after the egg hatches and they become independent soon after. American golden plover hatchlings are sexually mature when they return to breeding grounds the next year. (Byrkjedal, 1998; Cornell Lab of Ornithology, 2004; National Audubon Society, 2005; Sibley, 2001)

Each pair will only mate once per season, unless their eggs are lost due to predation or other reasons early in the breeding season. If eggs are lost later in the season, the pair will not breed again. Studies have shown that chicks that hatch early in the season have a better chance of survival (because they have more time to grow and develop before the migration to Rio de la Plata). (Byrkjedal, 1998; Sibley, 2001; Thompson and Byrkjedal, 2001)

  • Breeding interval
    American golden plovers breed once per year.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs in the month of June.
  • Range eggs per season
    1 to 4
  • Average eggs per season
  • Average eggs per season
  • Range time to hatching
    22 to 30 days
  • Average time to hatching
    25-28 days
  • Average fledging age
    22 days
  • Average time to independence
    22 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 years

Male and female American golden plovers spend equal amounts of time incubating their eggs and caring for their young. Each parent will spend 12 straight hours incubating the eggs, males during the day and females at night. Little information is available about parental care after hatching, but it appears to be the same as other tundra plovers. After hatching, males tend to spend more time caring for young than females, 48% of males make nest visits when they are "off-duty." Both parents forage in their breeding territory, however males spend more time on breeding territory (at least partially because of the off-duty nest visits). In other tundra plovers, the male continues to spend more time caring for young, and the female may leave before the chicks have left the nest. In cases where females do not leave before the chicks are mature enough be on on their own, both parents provide equally for the chicks until they reach independence. Both males and females protect and care for their eggs, and they decrease the amount of protection they provide for their precocial young once the eggs hatch. (Byrkjedal, 1998; Thompson and Byrkjedal, 2001)

  • Parental Investment
  • precocial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female


Males tend to live longer than females. Lifespans are usually between 8 and 15 years in the wild. (Byrkjedal, 1998)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    15 (high) years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    8 to 15 years


American golden plovers generally fly from breeding grounds to wintering grounds non-stop, unless they encounter unfavorable winds while flying over the Bahamas. Some individuals winter in the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the northern portion of South America. Additional individuals may stop on the way to rest for a short period of time. Adults tend to migrate a few weeks prior to juveniles. Adult females also migrate a little sooner than adult males. When migrating back to their breeding ground, American golden plovers stop briefly in Texas, flying up the middle of the United States. (Byrkjedal, 1998; Sibley, 2001)

  • Average territory size
    unknown km^2

Home Range

Exact distances for home range during breeding and nonbreeding season are unknown. Females have a larger home range than males during breeding season. American golden plovers are highly territorial during breeding season, although their territory is limited to the nesting site and a limited surrounding area. In nonbreeding season, American golden plovers are not territorial. (Byrkjedal, 1998)

Communication and Perception

American golden plovers communicate with each other using various calls. These calls include: trill, main/wail song, and alarm calls. Both the trill and main songs are used in the male flight song. Main song makes up the main portion of the song. Both trill and main songs have 4 short and quick tones. There are 6 different trill sequences used by P. dominica, much less than other tundra plovers. Alarm calls are more diverse than any other tundra plover. The call contains "whistles, yodel whistles, and clicking," and has also been described as a "clear, short, whistled oodle-oo" as well as "too-leet, too-leet." The flight call it thought to sound sad and urgent. Females tend to alarm call more during the incubation period than males. After hatching, alarm calls occur more equally between sexes. (Allen, 1939; Byrkjedal, 1998; Robbins, et al., 1983; Sibley, 2000; Sibley, 2001; Sibley, 2003a; Sibley, 2003b; Thompson and Byrkjedal, 2001)

American golden plovers also communicate visually. Males communicate with females using their flight songs, "torpedo runs," and butterfly wing motions. Both sexes will perform a type of flapping known as lapwings to show other members of the species that there is danger. (Byrkjedal, 1998; Thompson and Byrkjedal, 2001)

Food Habits

During the breeding season, terrestial snails, insects and insect larvae, seeds, freshwater crustaceans, and insect larvae make up the majority of the American golden plovers diet. During this time, both males and females forage on their breeding territories. Females feed at greater distances than do males, and males return to the nest more often. When not breeding, terrestial earthworms, insects and insect larvae, berries, seeds, and freshwater fish make up the majority of their diet. Diet is influenced by local abundance of prey and temperatures. The breeding season in the arctic is marked by cold weather and local mudflats often freeze, forcing these plover to forage more on land. Species eaten include: juvenile southwestern Atlantic fiddle crabs (Uca uruguayensis), crowberries (Empetrum nigrum), cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon), and cloudberries (Rubus chamaemorus). It is unknown whether males and females have different feeding preferences. (Byrkjedal, 1998; Iribarne and Mariano, 1999; National Audubon Society, 2005; Thompson and Byrkjedal, 2001)

American golden plovers eats foods whole, exhibiting a "run-stop-peck" feeding pattern. Because they lack nerve endings at the end of their beaks, they use their hard, sharp beaks to grab prey quickly and forcefully. Their beaks contain relatively unspecialized muscles which adds to the force with which prey is grabbed and to the range of movement in their jaw muscles. Thay also have strong neck muscles that keep their heads erect and increase the force with which they grab prey. (Byrkjedal, 1998; National Audubon Society, 2005; Thompson and Byrkjedal, 2001)

  • Animal Foods
  • fish
  • insects
  • mollusks
  • terrestrial worms
  • aquatic or marine worms
  • aquatic crustaceans
  • other marine invertebrates
  • Plant Foods
  • fruit


American golden plovers exhibit various types of predator defense. When a possible predator approaches its nest during breeding season, an adult will quickly leave the nest. The adult will then try to capture the predators attention from a different location, protecting the eggs. Circling and scolding the predator or "torpedo running" are both used for defense. American golden plovers will also use alarm calls to warn other plovers of the predators presence or perform lapwing motions. They sometimes attack a predator, but this is rare. American golden plovers will only attack arctic skuas (Stercorarius parasiticus) and long-tailed skuas (Stercorarius longicaudus). (Byrkjedal, 1998)

American golden plovers are also able to blend in with their surroundings. When crouched on the nest, they conceal the white feathers on their undersides (breeding plumage), leaving only the darker, speckled feathers on the back visible. The dorsal plumage blends in well with the lichen-covered tundra habitat in which they nest. (Allen, 1939)

American golden plover males exhibit fierce behavior when defending their territory during incubation from other American golden plovers. A male will "parallel walk" or exhibit "upright frontal threat" posture when another male enters his territory. Males will also physically fight, jumping on and pecking at one another. However, they do not use "torpedo running" or exhibit other behaviors that are used against predators. After the chicks hatch, American golden plovers cease defending their territory. (Byrkjedal, 1998)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

There is little information available on the role of P. dominica in its ecosystem. Because American golden plovers eat large numbers of insects and insect larvae, crustaceans, seeds, and berries, they reduce these populations. They may help disperse the seeds of the berries they eat. (Byrkjedal, 1998)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

For centuries, American golden plovers were hunted. In the late 18th century, there was an enormous decline in their numbers due to hunting. In one day it was recorded that 50,000 were killed and sold in a single market. The species became protected in most of the western hemisphere, and was taken off the game list. In addition, much of their wintering range has been protected. American golden plover populations have now rebounded, and are not currently listed as protected. (Byrkjedal, 1998; Thompson and Byrkjedal, 2001)

American golden plovers are important shorebirds in both Argentina and Alaska that attract ecotourism. In addition, they are important research subjects because of their long migrations and migratory patterns. ("Shorebirds: Prairies to Patagonia", 2004; Yukon Government, 2006)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food
  • research and education

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of P. dominica on humans.

Conservation Status

American golden plovers have a large migratory range and are not experiencing significant threats to their current population of approximately 150,000 individuals. For these reasons, they are listed as "least concern" on the IUCN Red List and are not identified as at risk by other management agencies.

Other Comments

In the past, most authors (writing about plovers) believed that American golden plovers and Pacific golden plovers were two subspecies of the same species. This was believed because the difference their geographical regions was believed to be a clinal- a gradual change of adjacent populations of the same species. (Byrkjedal, 1998; Connors, 1983)


Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Amber Cussen (author), Kalamazoo College, Ann Fraser (editor, instructor), Kalamazoo College.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map


uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


an animal that mainly eats fruit


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.


makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds


eats mollusks, members of Phylum Mollusca


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


the regions of the earth that surround the north and south poles, from the north pole to 60 degrees north and from the south pole to 60 degrees south.


Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


lives alone


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


A terrestrial biome with low, shrubby or mat-like vegetation found at extremely high latitudes or elevations, near the limit of plant growth. Soils usually subject to permafrost. Plant diversity is typically low and the growing season is short.


uses sight to communicate

young precocial

young are relatively well-developed when born


2004. "Shorebirds: Prairies to Patagonia" (On-line). Argentins: Shoresbirds of Argentina. Accessed November 11, 2006 at

Alerstam, T., G. Gudmundsson, M. Green, A. Hedenstroem. 2001. Migration along orthodromic sun compass routes by Arctic birds. Science, 291: 300-303. Accessed November 11, 2006 at

Allen, A. 1939. The Golden Plover and Other Plovers. Ithaca, New York: Com stock Publishing Inc..

Byrkjedal, I. 1998. Tundra Plovers. 24-28 Oval Road, London, NWI 7DX: T & AD Poyser Ltd.

Connors, P. 1983. Taxonomy, distribution, and evolution of Golden Plovers (Pluvialis dominica and Pluvialis fulva). Auk, 100: 607-620.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology, 2004. "Cornell Lab of Ornthology All About Birds" (On-line). American-Golden Plover. Accessed November 11, 2006 at

Gough, G., J. Sauer, M. Iliff. 1998. "Patuxent Bird Identification Infocenter." (On-line). Accessed October 15, 2006 at

Iribarne, O., M. Mariano. 1999. Predation on the Southwestern Atlantic Fiddler Crab (Uca uruguayensis) by migratory shorebirds (Pluvalis dominica, P. squatarola, Arenaria interpres, and Numenius phaeopus) . Estuaries, 22: 47-54.

Jukema, J., I. Tulp, L. Bruinzeel. 2003. Differential moult patterns in relation to antipredator behaviour during incubation in four tundra plovers. Ibis, 145:2: 270-276. Accessed November 11, 2006 at

Krijgsveld, K., J. Reneerkens, G. McNett, R. Ricklefs. 2003. Time budgets and body temperatures of American Golden-Plover chicks in relation to ambient temperature. The Condor, 105: 268-278.

National Audubon Society, 2005. "Audubon" (On-line). American-Golden Plover. Accessed November 11, 2006 at

Robbins, C., B. Bruun, H. Zim. 1966. A Guide to Field Identification Birds of North America. New York: Golden Press.

Robbins, C., B. Bruun, H. Zim. 1983. New York: Golden Press.

Sibley, D. 2003. The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc..

Sibley, D. 2003. The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc..

Sibley, D. 2001. The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc..

Sibley, D. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc..

The Wilderness Society, 1998. "America's Arctic Bird Connection" (On-line). Fact Sheet--American- Golden Plover (Pluvialis dominica). Accessed November 12, 2006 at

Thompson, D., I. Byrkjedal. 2001. Shorebirds. Minnesota: Voyageur Press.

Yukon Government, 2006. "Wildlife Management Advisory Council (North Slope)" (On-line). Shorebirds. Accessed November 11, 2006 at