American Golden-Plover

Pluvialis dominica



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Definitive Alternate (breeding) American Golden-Plover.

Medium-sized plover, similar in appearance to the Pacific Golden-Plover. Note white neck stripe that terminates abruptly at upper breast, which is characteristic in alternate plumage. Projection of primaries past tail can be useful to differentiate from Pacific Golden-Plover in all plumages.

Juvenile American Golden-Plover.

Definitive Basic underparts mostly pale grayish brown, with belly and undertail whitish. Note replacement of body feathers and wing coverts. Following complete over-winter molt this bird cannot be reliably aged.

Definitive Alternate (breeding) male American Golden-Plover.

Crown, nape, mantle, scapulars, tertials, and wing coverts dark grayish brown with bolder yellow or buffy spots and fringes. Sides of head and breast with continuous white stripe from forehead through supercilia, down sides of neck to widened, bulbous breast patches. Sides of head (below white stripe), and underparts entirely black, a few birds showing scattered white in vent and undertail coverts. Males in "full" alternate-plumage appearance such as this one are possibly at least two or three years old (see text), but more study is needed.

Definitive Alternate (breeding) female American Golden-Plover.

Similar to Definitive Alternate male, but black feathering of face and underparts mottled whitish, grading into white head-neck stripe, resulting in the latter being less clearly defined than in male. Auriculars often with distinctive white cheek patches.

Definitive Alternate (breeding) American Golden-Plovers in flight.
American Golden-Plover undergoing Prebasic Molt.

During Prebasic Molt, plumage of males and females becomes progressively less dimorphic as alternate feathering replaced. Early stages of molt most noticeable on black cheeks and underparts which become mottled with lighter feathers.

American Golden-Plovers in flight.

Note the smoky gray underwing. This flock contains birds undergoing the Definitive Prebasic Molt (birds with mottled black bellies) and juveniles, along with one Black-bellied Plover (sixth bird from right).

Basic (non-breeding) American Golden-Plover.

Note duller and softer pattern on upperparts, and more smudged, unpatterned breast and underparts when compared to juvenile. Sides of head are grayish with darker auriculars and loral smudge, and prominent whitish supercilia. Following complete molts on overwintering grounds, Formative and Definitive Basic Plumages not distinguishable. This individual may undergo prealtenate molt here or at other stopover locations closer to the breeding grounds.

American Golden-Plover undergoing Definitive Prealternate Molt.

Definitive Basic underparts mostly pale grayish brown, with belly and undertail whitish. Note replacement of body feathers and wing coverts. Following complete overwinter molt, this bird cannot be reliably aged.

Juvenile American Golden-Plover (left) with juvenile Pacific Golden-Plovers (middle, right).

Features useful for distinguishing American Golden-Plover from Pacific Golden-Plover are the grayish coloration of the American versus the buffier ground color of the Pacific, the smallish bill, shorter legs, and longer primary projection.

Juvenile American Golden-Plover (left) and Juvenile Black-bellied Plover (right).

American Golden-Plovers are smaller, and slimmer than the similar Black-bellied Plover. Juvenile golden-plovers are usually more golden brown on the back, with a more distinct dark cap. Note projection of primaries past tail.

Juvenile American Golden-Plover.

Juvenile Plumage is similar to Definitive Basic Plumage, but feathering is more even and distinct in pattern and wear. Crown, mantle, back, scapulars, and tertials are dark grayish brown marked with pale yellow to whitish edges and spots. Chest, breast, and sides are buffy white and spotted and barred with gray.

American Golden-Plover undergoing Preformative Molt.

Upperparts and wing coverts are mixed with fresh formative and older juvenile feathers, the latter not heavily worn or marked, as occurs in older alternate feathers during Definitive Prebasic Molt.

American Golden-Plover completing Prejuvenile Molt.

Prejuvenile Molt progresses rapidly, and is complete by late June to July.

American Golden-Plover chick.

Natal down well developed at hatching. Crown and back overall dull yellowish to whitish, mottled with fine black markings. Underparts are grayish white.

American Golden-Plover breeding habitat.

Nests primarily on arctic and subarctic tundra, sometimes on montane tundra.

American Golden-Plover breeding habitat.

In some areas, moist habitat with taller vegetation also used.

American Golden-Plover habitat in migration.

Uses a variety of inland and coastal habitats, both natural and human-made: native prairie, pastures, tilled farmland, untilled harvested fields, burned fields, mudflats, shorelines, estuaries.

American Golden-Plover overwintering habitat.

This species overwinters primarily on pampas in east-central Argentina and campos in Uruguay and southern Brazil.

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.

Alternate (breeding) male American Golden-Plover vocalizing.
Several American Golden-Plovers and a Southern Lapwing (Vanellus chilensis).

During the nonbreeding season, may join other shorebirds on multi-specific roosts.

Alternate (breeding) male American Golden-Plover in Tail-Down Run display.

In this distraction display, the head is held low, the tail depressed, and plumage is not ruffled. Photographer Oscar Johnson.

Alternate (breeding) male American Golden-Plover in Injury Feigning display.

In this distraction display, one or both wings are extended and flapping as if unable to fly (performed during slow run, or while creeping with wings beating on ground as if “rowing,” or in stationary position either standing or prostrate). Photographer Oscar Johnson.

Alternate (breeding) male American Golden-Plover in Stationary Spread-Wing Display.

In this distraction display, bird is crouched or prostrate, facing intruder, with wings outstretched and motionless, tail fanned and either erect or depressed. Photographer Oscar Johnson.

Merlin (Falco columbarius) with American Golden-Plover prey.

American Golden-Plover is prey for a variety of avian and mammalian predators.

Alternate (breeding) female American Golden-Plover on nest.

Incubation begins before completion of clutch. Males usually incubate during the day, and females at night, but there is considerable individual variation.

American Golden-Plover nest with eggs.

Nest is a well-camouflaged shallow circular depression, usually lined with lichens. Typical nest is located within a mosaic of lichen-covered rocks or ground, with vegetation of scattered forbs, grasses, and sedges.

American Golden-Plover nest with eggs.

Clutch size is almost invariably four. Eggs are buffy, and heavily marked with irregular splotches and spots of dark brown and black.

American Golden Plover eggs.

Teller, Alaska. 9 June 1961. Photographer Rene Corado.

Alternate (breeding) male American Golden-Plover (cover image).

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.