American Golden-Plover

Pluvialis dominica


Conservation and Management

Welcome to the Birds of North America Online!

You are currently viewing one of the free species accounts available in our complimentary tour of Birds of North America. In this courtesy review, you can access all the life history articles and the multimedia galleries associated with this species.

For complete access to all species accounts, a subscription is required.

Subscribe Now

Already a subscriber? Sign In

Effects of Human Activity

Some early ornithologists in North America thought the American Golden-Plover and Eurasian Golden-Plover were the same species (e.g., Catesby in 1743; see 296). The first scientific description of the American Golden-Plover was by Brisson in 1760 from specimens collected at Hispaniola (see 297). The American Golden-Plover has the dubious honor of at least 52 local and regional folk names in the U.S. and Canada (298) among them: Bullhead, Field Plover, Greenback, Muddy-belly (fall adult), Pale-breast (juvenile), and Prairie Pigeon. The long list mostly commemorates unfortunate popularity of this bird with 19th century gunners. A major population decline was caused by excessive sport and market hunting during the 19th and early 20th centuries (299, 156, 300, 301, 119, 194, 196, 302). Large numbers were killed in North America, especially during mid-continental spring migrations. Estimates of 48,000 were shot in a single day near New Orleans, Louisiana, in spring 1821 (J. J. Audubon in 194); 9,000 were received by Boston game dealers in spring 1890 (extrapolated from 201); and birds were sold “for 25¢ a dozen,” many spoiling before being sold, in the early 1850s in Portland, Maine (303) are representative of the devastating effects of market hunting on this species.

Was hunted also on South American overwintering range (46, 47, 119). Impact there somewhat uncertain (see 93), but apparently much less than in North America (304). Population rebounded significantly after most hunting ended around 1900. Hunting of American Golden-Plovers in North America was officially terminated by Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. Limited evidence of subsequent population stability as numbers overwintering in eastern Buenos Aires Province, Argentina, showed no evidence of further decline over period 1927–1962 (305), and Isacch and Martinez (122) working at Medaland Ranch (an important Argentine overwintering site) found plover population 1996–2000 of similar size to that recorded in earlier years by Myers and Myers (121). To what extent the foregoing hints of stability apply elsewhere on the overwintering range is unknown. Notably, Azpiroz et al. (182) suggested that the species is declining on overwintering grounds in southeastern South America. Loss of habitat, particularly on the overwintering range (see Distribution, Migration and Habitat​:​ Habitat in Overwintering Range), likely has ruled out any possibility of recovery to pre-exploitation levels.

Protected by law or otherwise unexploited in almost all of the Western Hemisphere. However, hunting of this plover still occurs in the Caribbean islands, including Barbados, Guadeloupe, and others (93, 306), although the net effect of this is controversial. The shooting is perhaps overall beneficial for shorebirds since this traditional activity gives incentive to preserve otherwise threatened wetlands (C. Faanes, personal communication; 93).

Most breeding ranges of these plovers are intact and relatively unexploited by humans. However, the effects of climate change (e.g., low growth tundra replaced by taller shrubby vegetation, shifts in timing of insect emergence) loom as major threats to the stability of arctic and subarctic breeding grounds (307, 308, 309, 310), and increasingly, there are potentially negative impacts from human infrastructure on important nesting grounds (311).

Overwintering ranges and migratory routes are variously threatened by unfavorable agricultural practices (expansion, intensification, drainage, agrichemicals), conversion of nonbreeding habitat to other uses (e.g., grasslands to row crops, residential development), reclamation, and other anthropogenic pressures (93, 182, 60, 312, 306). Studies on the overwintering range in Argentina (183, 188, 181) indicate that: plovers tend to avoid agricultural areas and concentrate instead on “flooding pampa” lowlands grazed by cattle; any modification of these lands (economic conditions might eventually favor drainage and conversion to cropland) would have serious impacts on this species. Also intertidal areas are often important feeding grounds, and some coastal overwintering populations in the region are threatened by urbanization and tourism. American Golden-Plover is clearly less able than Pacific Golden-Plover to coexist with humans during the nonbreeding season (see 16). The species faces potentially harmful effects from erection of wind turbines (wind farms) along continental migration pathways. Notably, a major spring stopover site for the plover in Benton County, Indiana (see Distribution, Migration and Habitat​: Migratory Behavior) is also the site of a massive wind farm development (93). Studies of plover behavior during stopover in the area suggested that turbines were causing only "limited avoidance," insofar as use of fields was concerned, but researchers cautioned that findings were tentative (313).

Pesticide exposure occurs on the overwintering grounds and along migratory routes. Feeding in rice fields may be particularly hazardous (see 186). In the 1970s, a pooled sample of 8 birds collected on the Seward Peninsula (unclear if American or Pacific golden-plovers or both) contained relatively high levels of DDE and PCBs (314). Limited subsequent sampling less alarming: 5 American Golden-Plovers collected on breeding grounds at Rankin Inlet, Nunavut contained low levels of DDE, dieldrin, heptachlor, and PCBs (315); 8 birds at Churchill, Manitoba, were low in DDT, DDE, dieldrin, mirex, PCBs, mercury, cadmium, selenium, and arsenic (316); and 13 eggs from 3 sites in Alaska contained organic and inorganic contaminants, but at low levels unlikely to “affect the survival of individuals and consequently regulate the species at the population level” (317). Blood levels of mercury relatively low in plovers nesting at Barrow, Alaska, but of possible concern “when combined with other ecological stressors, such as habitat loss, predation, disturbance, and climate change” (318). No DDT-associated eggshell thinning found in golden-plover eggs (species uncertain) from Alaska (319). Strum et al. (320) measured plasma cholinesterase in healthy American Golden-Plovers as a means to establish baseline values against which to measure possible cholinesterase-inhibiting effects of organophosphate and carbamate pesticides. Subsequent sampling of plovers in South America “did not show evidence of exposure” (321).


Despite encouraging population numbers (see Demography and Populations: Population Status), listing the American Golden-Plover as a “species of high concern” in the U.S. Shorebird Conservation Plan (322), and as a species of “high conservation concern” in the Alaska Shorebird Conservation Plan of 2019 (323) is fully warranted because of uncertain population trends. Of the various threats mentioned above, probably the most significant is on the breeding grounds where Wauchope et al. (310) predict that warming climate will cause up to 64% loss of suitable nesting habitat by 2070 (also see 324, 325). A conservation plan has been developed for the species by Clay et al. (93).

Recommended Citation

Johnson, O. W., P. G. Connors, and P. Pyle (2019). American Golden-Plover (Pluvialis dominica), version 3.1. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.