American Golden-Plover

Pluvialis dominica


Diet and Foraging

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Juvenile American Golden-Plover foraging.

Forages by repeated sequence of stop-run-stop. Capture is with single peck or series of pecks. Main foods taken include invertebrates, primarily terrestrial, some freshwater and marine; also berries, leaves, seeds.

© Chris Wood , New York , United States , 20 September 2008


Main Foods Taken

Invertebrates, primarily terrestrial, some freshwater and marine; also berries, leaves, and seeds. Studies in other shorebirds (191) suggest that these plovers might retain seeds in digestive tract, transporting them over great distances during migrations. Small vertebrates are known to be eaten occasionally by Pacific Golden-Plover, and also possibly by American Golden-Plover, but definite evidence lacking. On breeding grounds near Churchill, Manitoba, American Golden-Plover tends to forage selectively on relatively large prey (192).

Microhabitat for Foraging

Varies with annual cycle and geographic location. Generally prefer microhabitats where plant cover is short or absent, allowing ease of movement and relatively unobstructed vision. Breeding birds forage on various types of tundra ranging from large expanses of low vegetation only a few centimeters tall (as on well-drained slopes) to wetter mosaics of low shrubs and grasses interspersed with openings. When young hatch, families move to moist shrub/grass areas for feeding and cover. Migrants and overwintering birds feed on wide array of substrates (see Distribution, Migration and Habitat). At spring stopover in northern Indiana and Illinois, birds seemed to prefer soybean stubble, possibly because less insecticide is used on this crop, resulting in greater abundance of soil insects (154). More recently, a similar preference was demonstrated for soybean fields especially those with ephemeral water that likely makes earthworms more accessible (60). Attracted to rice fields on overwintering range in South America (186).

Food Capture and Consumption

Forage by repeated sequence of stop-run-stop or "run-stop-peck" (31). At stop, prey is captured (usually after brief scanning of substrate), or capture attempt fails, or no prey seen. Capture is with single peck or series of pecks. Probing while feeding on earthworms has been reported (193); possible tactile feeding by shallow poking in mud noted has also been noted (6).

Probably most food recognition and choice related to eyesight; except for brief comments about probing above, no information concerning senses of taste, smell, touch. Berry-eating on tundra does not involve usual foraging behavior just described; instead bird pecks repeatedly in small area. Birds foraging amidst low bushes on breeding grounds sometimes peck leaves at eye level or above, likely capturing tiny spiders or insects (probably mosquitoes which were abundant when behavior was observed, OWJ). Spatial separation maintained during feeding, no cooperative foraging. Foraging behavior varies with reproductive duties, if incubation underway birds forage alone during off-duty hours; if not yet incubating or if eggs have hatched and parents are guarding young, mated birds usually forage together.

Overwintering birds feed alone on territories well separated from neighbors, or in more closely spaced groups (see Behavior: Spacing). General pattern is to return to feeding grounds before sunrise, forage during daylight hours, then gather at communal roosts for the night (see Behavior: Self-Maintenance).


Major Food Items

Various adult and larval insects such as grasshoppers, beetles, grubs, cutworms, wireworms; earthworms; small molluscs and crustaceans; spiders; crowberries Empetrum spp. and blueberries Vaccinium spp. (194, 31). Regional reports list numerous foods including: seeds of Sylibum marianum (Argentina, 46); berries of Arctostaphylos uvaursi, spiders Lycosa sp., weevil Otiorhynchus ovatus, ichneumon wasp, beetle larvae (Nantucket Island, 195, 196); fiddler crabs Uca uruguayensis (Argentina, 197); beetles, ants, flies, grasshoppers, crickets, spiders, isopods, snails, earthworms, seeds, plant parts (Argentina, 198); weevils, ants (Illinois, 199); earthworms (southern Manitoba, 193; Illinois/Indiana, 60). Berries are particularly important in spring and fall. At spring arrival, berries from previous year may be one of few foods available. The latter are sometimes very abundant, with densities reaching 200,000/ha (200). The new berry crop is used by fall migrants during stopovers (201, also see 157), and no doubt by juveniles remaining on breeding grounds after departure of adults (see Distribution, Migration and Habitat: Timing and Routes of Migration). Fallout of airborne arthropods on snow patches could provide a limited early-spring food source (202).

Quantitative Analysis

On Nantucket Island "many" stomachs from birds shot during fall migration were filled with little else than crickets (201); at Churchill, Manitoba, 13 individuals had eaten approximately 41% plant seeds, 20% unidentified snails, 17% Chironomidae larvae, 9% Tipulidae larvae, 5% Dolichopodidae larvae, 5% Chrysomelidae (Donacia sp.) adults, 1% Diptera eggs, 1% Dysticidae (Agabus sp.) larvae, and 1% unidentified adult Coleoptera (192).

Nutrition and Energetics

Lemming bones (presumably scavenged from pellets and scats of predators) are occasionally found in plover stomachs, hence this material may be a calcium source for eggshell production and growth of juveniles (see 203). Stomach samples from Eurasian Golden-Plovers suggest that females ingest bones, males do not (31), no comparable data for American Golden-Plover. Since small bones are not predictably available, and since stomachs from shorebirds collected on tundra breeding grounds often contain no calcareous material (204, 177), it remains uncertain how females acquire sufficient calcium for egg-laying which sometimes includes a replacement clutch (see Demography and Populations: Measures of Breeding Activity). There is no information on body mass of these plovers at arrival on nesting grounds, and the energy demands associated with breeding (e.g., egg-laying, incubation) have not been explored. Based on studies of other shorebirds (205, 206, 207), energy stores at arrival on breeding grounds (capital) may be partly used for egg production, but the latter is likely to depend mostly on nutrients acquired after arrival (income). Eggs sampled at Churchill, Manitoba, suggested that at least some components were from endogenous stores (208).

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

Studies of overwintering adult Pacific Golden-Plover (209) showed high (passerine-like) basal metabolic rate (BMR) at 1.31W ± 0.41 SD, n = 12; mean rectal temperature 40.5°C ± 0.6 SD, n = 11; and average rate of weight loss during captivity 0.61 g/h ± 0.13 SD, n = 9; BMR may be higher on nesting grounds (see 210). No comparable measurements for adult American Golden-Plover. Metabolic rates, temperature regulation, time budgets, and body temperatures in relation to ambient temperatures have been studied in American Golden-Plover chicks (211, 212, 213; see Breeding: Parental Care). Visser and Ricklefs (211) measured resting metabolic rate (RMR) and peak metabolic rate (PMR) in one neonate at 0.126W and 0.200W, respectively. Williams et al. (213) tracked these rates from neonates to immature birds weighing about 80 g: approximate RMR increased from 10 to 100 kJ/day (n = 19), and approximate PMR increased from 25 to 300 kJ/day (n = 17). Energy requirements considerably in excess of predicted levels have been demonstrated in chicks of arctic-breeding shorebirds, including American Golden-Plover (214), such requirements are associated with cold tolerance, rapid growth rates, and reproduction timed to arthropod abundance.

Drinking, Pellet-Casting, and Defecation

Requirements for drinking are unknown. Large flocks of American Golden-Plovers gathered daily noon to mid afternoon for drinking and bathing at freshwater wetlands on Argentine overwintering range (47, 121). Skull morphology indicates that American Golden-Plover has smaller supraorbital glands than Pacific Golden-Plover, a difference suggesting the latter is better adapted to marine environments during the non-breeding season (31).

No reports of pellet-casting, but occasional regurgitation of pellets or unconsolidated particles may occur, based on observations in other shorebirds. Nothing unusual concerning defecation.

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.