A large (10-11 inches) wader, the male American Golden-Plover is most easily identified by its mottled golden back and crown, black underparts, and broad white stripe separating the two regions. The female American Golden-Plover in summer is similar to the male, but is slightly paler, especially on the face. In winter, both sexes are paler overall, becoming mottled gray above and pale below. In the breeding season, this species is most easily separated from the related Black-bellied Plover (Pluvialis squatarola) by that species’ larger size and grayer back. The American Golden-Plover breeds in northern Alaska and northwestern Canada. In winter, this species undertakes a long-distance migration to southern South America. American Golden-Plovers follow the Atlantic seaboard south during the fall migration, and return north along the central portion of the continent in spring. American Golden-Plovers breed on dry, sparsely-vegetated tundra habitats. In winter and on migration, this species utilizes a variety of open habitats, including grasslands, fields, coastal marshes, and mudflats. American Golden-Plovers primarily eat small invertebrates, including insects, earthworms, mollusks, and crustaceans. Due to its remote breeding and wintering habitats, many North American birdwatchers have only observed this species on migration. In suitable habitat, individuals may be seen foraging for food by probing the mud with their bills. This species is known to be territorial on its summer and winter ranges, but gathers in small flocks during migration. American Golden-Plovers are primarily active during the day.
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.
Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native ); neotropical (Native )
occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Breeding
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Breeding
Global Range: (>2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)) BREEDS: northern North America, from Baffin Island in Canada west to western Alaska. NORTHERN WINTER: Bolivia, Uruguay, and southern Brazil south to northern Chile and northern Argentina (some present in Central and South America in northern summer).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Range mass: 122 to 194 g.
Average mass: 144.6 g.
Range length: 23 to 30 cm.
Average length: 26 cm.
Range wingspan: 45.7 to 66.0 cm.
Average wingspan: 50.8 cm.
Range basal metabolic rate: unknown to unknown cm3.O2/g/hr.
Average basal metabolic rate: unknown cm3.O2/g/hr.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry
Sexual Dimorphism: male more colorful
Length: 27 cm
Weight: 145 grams
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.
Habitat Regions: temperate ; polar ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: tundra ; savanna or grassland
Other Habitat Features: riparian
Habitat and Ecology
Comments: Nonbreeding: short grasslands, pastures, golf courses, mudflats, sandy beaches, and flooded fields (AOU 1983). Nests on grassy tundra; prefers dry upland areas. The nest is a shallow scraped-out depression, lined with mosses, leaves, grass, and lichens. In western Alaska, where DOMINICA and FULVA are sympatric, DOMINICA nests occurred more often in areas of higher elevation and slope, with sparser and shorter vegetation, and more rocks; FULVA nests were usually at lower elevations in denser and taller vegetative cover; both forms used relatively dry upland tundra (Connors et al. 1993).
Non-Migrant: No. All populations of this species make significant seasonal migrations.
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).
Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.
Arrives in U.S. March-April, in northern breeding areas late May-early June. Rare fall migrant in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands August-December (Raffaele 1983). Southward migration occurs mostly over oceans; northward migration through Middle America and from the Rockies to the Mississippi Valley. Young remain on tundra until around mid-August, at which time they form flocks and begin to migrate. In fall, Nova Scotia is a staging area for many that migrate to South America (but some may pass over Maritime provinces and fly nonstop from to South America). Amazonia apparently is an important migratory route (Stotz et al. 1992).
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.
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.
Animal Foods: fish; insects; mollusks; terrestrial worms; aquatic or marine worms; aquatic crustaceans; other marine invertebrates
Plant Foods: fruit
Primary Diet: carnivore (Insectivore , Eats non-insect arthropods, Molluscivore ); herbivore (Frugivore )
Comments: Feeds primarily on insects (grasshoppers, crickets, grubs of beetles, caterpillars, cutworms, wireworms, etc.). Also eats some small mollusks and crustaceans.
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.
Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds
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).
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.
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.
- Arctic skuas (Stercorarius parasiticus)
- long-tailed skuas (Stercorarius longicaudus)
Anti-predator Adaptations: cryptic
Life History and Behavior
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.
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.
Communication Channels: visual ; acoustic
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Males tend to live longer than females. Lifespans are usually between 8 and 15 years in the wild.
Status: wild: 15 (high) years.
Status: wild: 8 to 15 years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
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.
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."
American golden plovers are monogamous, mating with only one other individual.
Mating System: monogamous
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.
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).
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: 4.
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.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; oviparous
Average eggs per season: 4.
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.
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)
Breeding begins late May in south to early or mid-June in north (Harrison 1978). Usually 4 eggs are incubated (by male during the day, by female at night) for 26 days (Terres 1980). Young are precocial, tended by both adults. Monogamous. Some begin breeding at 1 year.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Pluvialis dominica
Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.
See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.
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Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Pluvialis dominica
Public Records: 5
Specimens with Barcodes: 13
Species With Barcodes: 1
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.
US Migratory Bird Act: protected
US Federal List: no special status
CITES: no special status
State of Michigan List: no special status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N4B - Apparently Secure
Rounded National Status Rank: N5B - Secure
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
There are no known adverse effects of P. dominica on humans.
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.
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.
Positive Impacts: food ; research and education
American golden plover
The American golden plover (Pluvialis dominica) is a medium-sized plover.
Adults are spotted gold and black on the crown, back and wings. Their face and neck are black with a white border; they have a black breast and a dark rump. The legs are black.
It is similar to two other golden plovers, Eurasian and Pacific. The American golden plover is smaller, slimmer and relatively longer-legged than European golden plover (Pluvialis apricaria) which also has white axillary (armpit) feathers. It is more similar to Pacific golden plover (Pluvialis fulva) with which it was once considered conspecific under the name "lesser golden plover". The Pacific golden plover is slimmer than the American species, has a shorter primary projection, and longer legs, and is usually yellower on the back.
The breeding habitat of American golden plover is Arctic tundra from northern Canada and Alaska. They nest on the ground in a dry open area. They are migratory and winter in southern South America. They follow an elliptical migration path; northbound birds pass through Central America about January–April and stage in great numbers in places like Illinois before their final push north. In fall, they take a more easterly route, flying mostly over the western Atlantic and Caribbean Sea to the wintering grounds in Patagonia. The bird has one of the longest known migratory routes of over 25,000 mi (40,000 km). Of this, 2,400 mi (3,900 km) is over open ocean where it cannot stop to feed or drink. It does this from body fat stores that it stocks up on prior to the flight. It is a regular vagrant to western Europe.
A comparison of dates and migratory patterns leads to the conclusion that Eskimo curlews and American golden plovers were the most likely shore birds to have attracted the attention of Christopher Columbus to nearby America in early October 1492, after 65 days at sea out of sight of land.
Large numbers were shot in the late 19th century and the population has never fully recovered.
- BirdLife International (2012). "Pluvialis dominica". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
- Reviewed in Sangster et al. (2002).
- Strewe & Navarro (2004), Herrera et al. (2006)
- J.B. Gollop, T.W. Barry, & E.H. Iversen (1986). "Eskimo Curlew - A vanishing species? : The Eskimo Curlew's Year - Introduction to Oceanic Migration". Nature Saskatchewan & United States Geological Survey. Retrieved 2007-12-22.
- Hayman, Peter; Marchant, John & Prater, Tony (1986): Shorebirds: an identification guide to the waders of the world. Houghton Mifflin, Boston. ISBN 0-395-60237-8
- Herrera, Néstor; Rivera, Roberto; Ibarra Portillo, Ricardo & Rodríguez, Wilfredo (2006): Nuevos registros para la avifauna de El Salvador. ["New records for the avifauna of El Salvador"]. Boletín de la Sociedad Antioqueña de Ornitología 16(2): 1-19. [Spanish with English abstract] PDF fulltext
- Sangster, George; Knox, Alan G.; Helbig, Andreas J.; Parkin, David T. (2002). "Taxonomic recommendations for European birds". Ibis 144 (1): 153–159. doi:10.1046/j.0019-1019.2001.00026.x.
- Strewe, Ralf; Navarro, Cristobal (2004). "New and noteworthy records of birds from the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta region, north-eastern Colombia" (PDF). Bull. B.O.C. 124 (1): 38–51.
Names and Taxonomy
Comments: Pluvialis dominica and P. fulva formerly were regarded as conspecific (P. dominica). Connors et al. (1993) documented clear and consistent differences in breeding vocalizations and nesting habitat, and strict assortative mating in areas of sympatry in western Alaska; they concluded that P. dominica and P. fulva are distinct species. Sibley and Monroe (1990) and AOU (1993) also treated these taxa as separate species. See AOU (1995) for explanation of change in spelling of specific name from dominica to dominicus.