Editor’s Note (May 2017): Maps, rich media, and text have been updated to reflect a taxonomic change/split for this species. This species account is being edited and may contain content from an earlier version of the account.
The Golden Plover is an aristocrat among birds. Everything about it is distinctive. The jet black breast and belly, the golden yellow back and striking head markings of the breeding plumage would in themselves be enough to set it apart in any assemblage of its relatives. In addition it has rather stately and dignified movements in contrast to the darting hasty nervousness of so many shorebirds whether feeding, migrating or on the breeding grounds. The downy chicks are also among the loveliest of all young birds, their yellow backs being startlingly different from the usual blacks, browns and grays affected by most newly hatched youngsters of the shorebird clan.
Gabrielson and Lincoln 1959, The Birds of Alaska
American Golden-plovers are conspicuous breeding birds on North American and Asian tundras, and by their extensive migrations they link these regions with a vast area of the world. The morphologically similar American Golden-plovers and Pacific Golden-plovers were formerly regarded as subspecies. Decisive studies on sympatric breeding grounds have shown no hybridization between the two and led to their reclassification as full species (American Ornithologists' Union 1993). Text may apply to both species, unless specified otherwise.
The American Golden-Plover nests from Baffin Island, Canada, to the eastern edge of Siberia and winters in South America. Breeding grounds of American and Pacific golden-plovers converge in the Bering Strait region, with the Pacific Golden-Plover common in western Alaska and the American Golden-Plover rare in eastern Siberia. Migrations often involve long, nonstop, transoceanic flights.
Nests are shallow scrapes lined with lichens, and clutches typically contain four eggs. Both sexes incubate and care for the young. There is strong male-biased fidelity to specific breeding territories in successive seasons. Territories are large (10–50 ha); are defined by aerial displays and vocalizations of males; and are defended by both members of the pair (especially the male) against conspecifics, congeners, and other intruders. Individuals are often territorial on their wintering grounds.