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Pacific Golden-Plover Life History



Pacific Golden-Plovers nest in arctic and subarctic tundra, both in lowlands and mountains. In Russia, where there are few American Golden-Plovers, Pacifics nest in a great variety of tundra habitats, but in Alaska, where Americans are numerous, the two golden-plover species usually select different habitats: Pacifics nest at lower elevations in denser vegetation with fewer rocks (sometimes among dwarf shrubs or in low grasses and sedges); Americans nest at higher elevations, on drier, rocky slopes with sparse, low vegetation. During migration and on nonbreeding grounds, flocks gather in pastures, airports, sod farms, farmland, mudflats, and shorelines. During nonbreeding seasons, they also live in rice fields, saltmarshes, beaches, and mangroves. In Hawaii, almost any open grassy space has wintering birds—cemeteries, athletic fields, parks, residential lawns, golf courses, grassy roadsides, military bases, and clearings in heavily wooded areas, up to about 8,200 feet elevation. All through the year, their habitats tend to be open with short vegetation, enabling them to find food on the ground and to spot predators at a distance. However, in Hawaii, they often forage in stands of ironwood trees, as the leaf-litter beneath them contains an abundance of insects.

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Aquatic invertebratesPacific Golden-Plovers eat mostly insects. They forage like most plovers, running along, stopping and scanning, then quickly picking prey from the ground before resuming their “run-stop-peck” method. In Hawaii, they sometimes excavate shallow holes in lawns, digging for earthworms and millipedes. They swallow small prey items whole, but larger items are dismembered by pecking, then consumed piece by piece. In late summer, they readily eat crowberries and blueberries, which help them put on fat for their long migration. They also eat seeds and some flowers and leaves. They eat a wide variety of food including grasshoppers, beetles, leafhoppers, crane fly larvae, cutworms, wireworms, moths, mosquitoes, roaches, mites, sowbugs, earwigs, flies, bees, wasps, ants, earthworms, leeches, centipedes, millipedes, spiders, bristleworms, slugs, snails, mussels, brine shrimp, small crustaceans, small fish, geckos, skinks, and blind snakes. They may occasionally eat bird eggs and even small mice. Unlike American Golden-Plovers, Pacifics have become quite habituated to humans, particularly in populated areas such as Oahu. Here, they forage within a few feet of people and even eat discarded bread, rice, chicken, french fries, apples, etc.Back to top


Nest Placement

GroundThe male makes a shallow depression in the tundra vegetation using his feet and breast. Although males may make multiple nest scrapes during courtship, only the scrape chosen for the nest is lined.

Nest Description

The male lines the nest scrape with lichen, grass, moss, and leaves of willow and mountain avens, sometimes with twigs. Pacific Golden-Plover nests usually have thicker lining than those of Americans. Nests average about 4.6 inches across and 1.3 inches deep. These nest scrapes may be reused for many years, either by the same pair or other golden-plovers.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:4 eggs
Egg Description:White to buff, heavily spotted and splotched with dark brown and black.
Condition at Hatching:

Covered with down at hatching and able to move about independently shortly afterwards.

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Ground Forager

As soon as males return to the breeding areas, they claim a nesting territory and begin advertising to females with a spectacular “butterfly display” over their territory. They sing and fly slowly, with exaggerated wingbeats, then land with wings held upward in a “V” shape. When a female shows interest, the male sometimes performs alongside her in the air, and the two may land simultaneously, wings raised. The male continues to display on the ground, performing a “scraping display,” as though making a nest scrape, raising his wings overhead, racing at the female with lowered head, or stretching his body forward, touching the ground with the bill and raising the tail. Male and female may join in display together, singing and rocking the entire body up and down, from head to tail. This species is socially monogamous. Both sexes are territorial and defend large territories, from 25 to 125 acres, chasing out rival golden-plovers and many other species of shorebird. However, males do a lot of the territorial defense, mostly around the nest, and both male and female regularly leave the territory to feed. Both male and female incubate the eggs and tend the young. When young hatch, the family moves toward moist shrub-grass areas, which offer superior cover and food. Once the young fledge, adults gather into flocks for migration. The juveniles remain on the nesting grounds longer and migrate later. Although migrating golden-plovers do not appear to defend feeding territories, wintering birds in Hawaii sometimes defend small areas against other golden-plovers when feeding. They typically gather in groups to roost at night.

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Low Concern

There is little information on population trends of Pacific Golden-Plovers. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 220,000 and rates the species an 11 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of low conservation concern. Deforestation in many parts of the wintering range, including the Hawaiian Islands, has probably benefited populations of this species, though it is still hunted as food in Asia and was heavily hunted in Hawaii, Australia, and elsewhere until recent times. The negative effects of climate change on nesting habitat (as evidenced by the increase of shrubby vegetation on the tundra) and wintering habitat (inundation of low-lying Pacific islands by sea-level rise) are likely to be profound in the case of Pacific Golden-Plover.

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Andres, B. A., P. A. Smith, R. I. G. Morrison, C. L. Gratto-Trevor, S. C. Brown, and C. A. Friis (2012). Population estimates of North American shorebirds, 2012. Wader Study Group Bulletin 119:178–194.

Byrkjedal, I., and D. B. A. Thompson (1998). Tundra Plovers: The Eurasian, Pacific and American Golden Plovers and Grey Plover. T & AD Poyser Ltd, London, United Kingdom.

Johnson, O. W., P. G. Connors, and P. Pyle (2018). Pacific Golden-Plover (Pluvialis fulva), 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. Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2021.1. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2021.

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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