Wilson's Plover

Charadrius wilsonia

  • Version: 2.0 — Published December 1, 2018
  • Margo G. Zdravkovic, Carol A. Corbat, and Peter W. Bergstrom

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Figure 1. Distribution of Wilson's Plover in North and Central America and western Caribbean.
Definitive Alternate male Wilson's Plover.

Medium-sized ringed plover of coastal habitats. In all plumages, the bill is black, large, and heavy; upperparts are generally grayish to grayish brown; underparts white, with black to brownish breast band and legs and feet pinkish gray. Image taken in north Florida by Conservian/M. Zdravkovic.

© Margo Zdravkovic , Florida , United States , 1 May 2007
Definitive Alternate male Wilson's Plover.

Definitive Alternate males have well-marked head plumage including breast band that is broad, complete, and black or mostly black. Image taken in the northern Bahamas by Conservian/M. Zdravkovic.

© Margo Zdravkovic , Florida , United States , 1 May 2017

Wilson's Plover is a medium-sized shorebird that is closely associated with coastal areas. It breeds along the Atlantic coast from Virginia south, throughout the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean, to northwestern Brazil, and on the Pacific coast from southern Baja California south to northern Peru. It has a single breast-band and is easily distinguished from similar plovers by its heavy black bill and larger size. Also known as the Thick-billed Plover, this species was named for Alexander Wilson, who collected the type specimen in May 1813 at Cape May, New Jersey, where this species was (and still is) only a rare visitor.

The Wilson's Plover nests on sparsely to densely vegetated saline areas, including beaches above high tide, dune areas, and edges of lagoons. Breeding pairs are territorial during the nesting season, and may engage in group defense of their nesting areas. During the nonbreeding season, individuals congregate for roosting and foraging in groups ranging from a few birds to several hundred, primarily with other species of small plovers. Wilson's Plover feeds primarily on crustaceans, particularly fiddler crabs (Uca spp.), but also feeds on insects, worms, and other invertebrates.

Studies from Texas, Georgia, and Louisiana by Bergstrom (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6), Corbat (7), and Zdravkovic (8) have provided important information on breeding biology. Studies of feeding behavior, activity budget, and habitat use have been conducted in Venezuela and the U.S. Gulf coast (9, 10, 11, 8). Little is known about the migration routes, life span, or lifetime reproductive success of the species. There are no population data for subspecies C. w. cinnamominus, C. w. beldingi, or C. w. crassirostris, which all breed south of the United States. Current subspecies designations warrant further study and DNA analysis.

Within the United States, monitoring data indicate both a declining population and a contracting range for the Wilson's Plover. Loss of beach habitat from urbanization and other human development is one of the primary threats to this species. Disturbance to nesting areas from beach-recreation and management is also a significant cause of population decline. As a coastal-obligate shorebird, the Wilson's Plover is also particularly susceptible to rising sea levels.

Recommended Citation

Zdravkovic, M. G., C. A. Corbat, and P. W. Bergstrom (2018). Wilson's Plover (Charadrius wilsonia), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bna.wilplo.02