American Golden-Plover

Pluvialis dominica



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Geographic Variation

No intraspecific variation reported.


No subspecies are known, but note that Charadrius pectoralis Vieillot, 1823, C. virginicus Lichtenstein, 1823, C. marmoratus Wagler, 1827, and Pluvialis americanus Schlegel, 1865, are junior synonyms of Pluvialis dominica (Müller, 1776).

Related Species

The family Charadriidae, the plovers and lapwings, is well supported and is one of the core groups in the shorebird (Charadriiformes) radiation. Within the Charadriidae, the genus Pluvialis is also well defined (61): it consists of 4 species worldwide, each broadly similar in shape, size, and general plumage pattern (see Distinguishing Characteristics), although P. squatarola (the Black-bellied Plover, or “Grey Plover” in Europe) differs from the 3 golden-plovers, P. dominica (the American Golden-Plover), P. fulva (the Pacific Golden-Plover), and P. apricaria (the Eurasian Golden-Plover) in having a vestigial hind toe. The 4 species have been compared and contrasted in terms of downy plumages (62), osteology (63, 64, 65), allozymes (66, 67, 68), DNA–DNA hybridization (69), and vocalizations (70). Relationships within the Charadriidae are less clear, and it may be that Pluvialis is rather distantly related to Vanellus (lapwings) and Charadrius (shore plovers) (71, 72), the 2 most speciose genera in the family.

Pluvialis dominica and P. fulva were long considered to be conspecific, and were treated collectively under the English name, the Lesser Golden-Plover. Following initial arguments for a split (8), subsequent evidence indicated “clear and consistent differences in breeding vocalizations and nesting habitat, and strict assortative mating in areas of sympatry in western Alaska” (37). Speciation of P. dominica and P. fulva probably occurred about 1.8 million years ago (73) in refugia associated with Pleistocene glaciation. A plausible evolutionary scenario for the origins of these taxa, plus P. apricaria, proposed that the fledgling taxa were initially isolated during a warm interglacial within cold tundra refugia of northern Greenland–Ellesmere Island (P. apricaria) and highlands on either side of the Bering Strait (P. dominica and P. fulva) (74). The 3 incipient species remained isolated during the last glacial maximum in tundra refugia of Europe–western Russia (P. apricaria), Beringia (P. fulva), and northeastern North America (P. dominica). Subsequent colonization of western Alaska by P. fulva likely came from the Chukotsk Peninsula, with P. dominica colonizing from the opposite direction (75). Different “requirements of migration and winter range” that yielded selective pressures against hybrids may have driven speciation of the 2 North American species (8).

Reports of “very low levels of within-species genetic variation” in P. dominica, were attributed to a population bottleneck, perhaps caused by excessive hunting (66) (see Conservation and Management: Effects of Human Activity).

Genetic analysis by Withrow and Winker (73) indicated rare occurrence of P. dominicaP. fulva hybridization. Other reports suggesting possible P. fulva P. apricaria hybrids (76) are of uncertain validity and may represent individual variation within each species rather than interbreeding.

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.