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American Golden-Plover Life History



During migration, American Golden-Plovers feed in lagoons and estuaries. For breeding they use arctic and subarctic tundra, both in lowlands and mountains. Tundra vegetation is seldom more than a few inches tall, which allows the birds to feed and nest where they can see predators at distance. The closely related Pacific Golden-Plover often nests in similar habitat, but typically selects wetter areas with fewer rocks, while the American Golden-Plover nests on higher, stonier slopes. During migration, flocks gather in native prairie, pastures, sod farms, farmland, mudflats, and shorelines, both on major coastlines and in the interior. On wintering grounds in eastern Brazil to Argentina, they use agricultural fields, pastures, and grasslands.

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Aquatic invertebrates

American Golden-Plovers eat mostly insects and invertebrates along with some berries and seeds. They hunt much like an American Robin; running along, stopping to scan for prey, then quickly picking it up from the ground. The plovers usually seize prey quickly, then repeat their “run-stop-peck” method. For most of the year, golden-plovers eat larval and adult insects, including beetles, grasshoppers, wasps, ants, flies, and mosquitoes. They also eat spiders, snails, worms, mollusks, and small crustaceans such as fiddler crabs. In late summer, they readily eat berries, mostly crowberries and blueberries, which help them put on fat for their long migration.

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Nest Placement

GroundWith his feet and breast, the male makes a shallow depression in the tundra vegetation. Although males may make multiple nest scrapes during courtship, they line only the chosen nest scrape.

Nest Description

The male lines the nest scrape with lichen, grass, and leaves of willow and mountain avens, and sometimes uses twigs. Nests average about 4 inches across and 1.8 inches deep. These nest scrapes may be reused for many years, either by the same pair or other golden-plovers.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:3-5 eggs
Number of Broods:1 brood
Egg Length:1.8-2.0 in (4.44-5.21 cm)
Egg Width:1.3-1.4 in (3.29-3.53 cm)
Incubation Period:24-27 days
Egg Description:White to buff, heavily spotted and splotched with dark brown and black.
Condition at Hatching:Covered with down and able to walk soon after hatching. Feed themselves within one day.
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During the breeding season, courtship displays are complex and may involve both sexes in the air and on the ground. In the “butterfly display,” the male flies to great heights and sings as he flutters and glides to earth with slow wingbeats or wings held in an upward V shape. When a female shows interest, the male sometimes flies alongside her. On the ground, they may sing together followed by the male performing a “scraping display,” as though he is making a nest scrape. He also raises his wings overhead and races at the female with lowered head or stretches his body upward and stands motionless. The species is socially monogamous, but copulations outside the pair are common. Both males and females are territorial and defend large territories, from 25 to 125 acres, by chasing out rivals and other shorebirds, but they regularly leave the territory to feed. Although migrating golden-plovers do not defend feeding territories, wintering birds in Argentina sometimes defend small (less than 1 acre) areas against other golden-plovers when feeding.

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American Golden-Plovers are fairly numerous but have a declining population. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population of the species at 500,000 individuals. The group rates American Golden-Plover a 15 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and includes it on their Yellow Watch List for species with declining populations. Market hunting in the 19th and early 20th centuries caused major declines in American Golden-Plover numbers. One estimate of a single day's kill near New Orleans was 48,000. In 2012, research on the wintering grounds in South America indicated continuing decline, possibly owing to loss of habitat. Climate change imperils the species’ nesting habitat, with low tundra being lost to taller vegetation in some locations. The closely related Pacific Golden-Plover adapts readily to human-modified habitats on wintering grounds, but American Golden-Plovers do not. Wind farms, hunting in the Caribbean and South America, and pesticides pose additional challenges to populations of this species.

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Azpiroz, A.B., Isacch, J.P., Dias, R.A., Di Giacomo, A.S., Fontana, C.S. and Palarea, C.M. (2012). Ecology and conservation of grassland birds in southeastern South America: a review. Journal of Field Ornithology. 83(3): 217–246.

Johnson, Oscar W., Peter G. Connors and Peter Pyle. (2018). American Golden-Plover (Pluvialis dominica), version 3.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

Partners in Flight. (2020). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2020.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

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