With most of its breeding range in Russia, the Pacific Golden-Plover nests in western Alaska alongside the American Golden-Plover from which the species was split. Most birders wishing to see one will travel to local portions of the California coast where a small percentage of the total population of Pacific Golden-Plovers spends the winter.
Pacific Golden-Plovers are capable of breeding at age one. Males in particular are very faithful to nest sites from one year to the next. Nest success can be affected by rodent population cycles, because when rodents are abundant, predators such as foxes concentrate on them, but when rodents are scarce, golden-plover eggs and chicks become a main source of food.
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Description of the Pacific Golden-Plover
The Pacific Golden-Plover is a chunky, upright shorebird with a rounded head and black bill.
– Black cheek, throat, breast, and belly.
– White line from eye down to flanks.
– Gold and black markings above.
– Whiter face than males.
– Partly black throat, breast, and belly.
– Gold and black markings above.
Seasonal change in appearance
Winter birds lose black from face and underparts.
Juveniles resemble winter adults.
Tundra and mudflats.
Forages by walking or running.
Breeds in Alaska and Russia and winters broadly around much of the world but only in small numbers on the west coast of the U.S.
Territory defense is most aggressive near the nest and declines farther away from the nest to the territory edges.
A complex whistle and sharp alarm calls are given.
- American Golden-Plovers have a shorter white stripe on the neck during the breeding season.
The nest is a depression on the ground.
Color: Buff with darker markings.
Incubation and fledging:
– Young hatch at 26-27 days.
– Young fledge (leave the nest) shortly after hatching but remain with the adults for some time.
Bent Life History of the Pacific Golden-Plover
Published by the Smithsonian Institution between the 1920s and the 1950s, the Bent life history series of monographs provide an often colorful description of the birds of North America. Arthur Cleveland Bent was the lead author for the series. The Bent series is a great resource and often includes quotes from early American Ornithologists, including Audubon, Townsend, Wilson, Sutton and many others.
Bent Life History for the Pacific Golden-Plover – the common name and sub-species reflect the nomenclature in use at the time the description was written.
PLUVIALIS DOMINICA FULVA (Gmelin)
The Pacific golden plover is a smaller and more brightly colored subspecies of the American golden plover. It breeds on the Arctic coast of Siberia from the Yenesei River to Bering Strait and on the Bering Sea coast of Alaska. On the coast of Alaska north of Bering Strait it intcrgrades with the American form, and there is some evidence that it intergrades or hybridizes with the European golden plover at the western end of its range. It is known as the Asiatic or eastern golden plover by European writers. It winters from India and China to Australia, New Zealand, the Hawaiian Islands, and many other islands in the southern Pacific Ocean.
Spring: This plover makes even more wonderful migratory flights than its American relative, for between its winter and its summer homes it travels twice each year over thousands of miles of trackless ocean; many individuals may become lost or perish, but the majority of them seem to find their way by some marvelous sense of direction. The reader is referred to an excellent paper on the migration of this plover to and from the Hawaiian Islands by Dr. Henry W. Henshaw (1910). Of the spring migration he writes:
During the last two months of their stay in the islands both the migrating plover and turastones get very fat, and it Is probable that individuals that are not in good condition do not attempt the flight, or if they do do not survive the attempt. Toward April most plover seem to be in full breeding plumage, and I feel sure that none of the birds assuming the breeding dress remain behind unless sick or wounded. There is, however, a small contingent, both of plover and turnstones, that summer In the islands, and these appear to consist wholly of immature individuals, which, as a rule, are thin and not in good trim.
When the time to migrate comes, small parties, from a dozen or even less to flocks of 200 or more, strike boldly out to the northward, apparently without hesitancy or doubt of the result. Mr. Haswell, of Papalkon, which is on the coast about 15 miles north of Hilo, soon after daybreak during the early days of April, 1900, saw several flocks rise to a great height and, after widely circling about a few times as if to orient themselves, finally, disappear in a northerly direction.
It is probable, however, that day migration Is not the rule with plover and other shore birds. Apparently it is more usual for the flocks to feed by day and leave just before nightfall, as do many other birds in different parts of the world. Mr. II. c. I.,. Perkins states that several times he “witnessed these departures always late in the afternoon or just before dark.”
How fast the birds fly or how long it takes them to make the 2,000 mile flight across the ocean to the Aleutian Islands, we do not know. If they fly at the rate of 40 miles an hour without stopping, it would take over two days. They probably can not sustain such a prolonged effort without food. Practically all shore birds are known to alight on and arise from the water at will; so the chances are that they stop to rest on the way. They probably obtain some food from floating masses of seaweed, from the refuse left by whales, or from the numerous forms of minute animal life to be found on the surface. These birds have frequently been seen migrating at sea hundreds of miles from land, and one observer has actually seen one resting on the water. Evidence that they do so is furnished by the fact that native gunners in Trinidad, according to some notes sent to me by Julian Lyder, detect the newly arrived birds by a salty taste on the feathers.
The plover leave the Hawaiian Islands during April and May. We have no data as to when they reach the Aleutian Islands, but they arrive in the Commander Islands about the middle of May, and the first arrivals were noted at Nijni Kolymsk, Siberia, on May 30. On the IPribilof Islands they have been known to arrive as early as April 18, but they usually come about the first week in May. A. H. Twitchell tells me that he has seen them at Bethel, Alaska, as early as May 8, and Herbert W. Brandt says in his notes from looper Bay:
When the first small flocks of this noble Asiatic visitant appeared on Point Dali on May 10 the receding snow seemed to emphasize its golden splendor. It never became really common like its larger relative, the black-bellied plover, but numerous individuals and small bands were observed which, however, prove(l to be transients, for they all departed hy early June. They usually associated with the gaudily attired ruddy turastone and the combined lavish color effect of these two feathered gems was lovely indeed to behoid. The Eskimos claim that, when seal hunting off Point flail, they often encountered birds of the present species flying shoreward, so perhaps many of these longflighted migrants moved directly from the western section of the Aleutian Islands across Bering Sea to their Alaskan summer homes.
Nesting: Mr. Brandt has sent me the following notes on the nesting habits of this plover:
The breeding realm of the aristocratic golden plover in the Hooper Bay region is confined to a narrow belt on the mountain slopes well above brush line in the Askinuk Range. Here at an altitude of from five to eight hundred feet dwells a pair nearly every half mile, or about the same relative distance apart that the black-bellied plover families maintain between themselves on the tundra below.
The only nest of the Pacific golden plover to come under my observation was found on June 27 at an altitude of 600 feet on the Bimute spur of the Askinuk Range. On this upper mountain slope amid the scattered rocky outcrops exists a grim Arctic flora of mosses and lichens which In patches is mottled black and grayish white. On one of these velvet-like spots a little top moss is removed by the birds so as to make a slight depression in which the four beautiful eggs are placed. The lining of the nest is simply a few short unarrangod stems of the reindeer mose that no doubt grew on the site. The nesting cavity is 4 inches iii diameter and only half an inch in depth, thus making it notable as perhaps the most meager of the limicoline abodes we found. The parti-colored eggs and their environs blend as one in coloration, so, even in that jaeger-ridden land, they enjoy unusual protective security. The male bird alone was present during my stay in the vicinity of his abiding place and failed to exhibit either the extreme timidity or the agitation so characteristic of the black-bellied plover.
Henry Secbohm (1901) gives the following account of finding a nest near the banks of the Yenesei River in Siberia:
On the top of the bank I found myself on the real tundra. Not a trace of a pine tree was visible, and the birches rarely exceeded 12 inches in height. There was less grass, more moss and lichen, and the ground was covered with patches of yellow mud or clay, in which were a few small stones, that were apparently too barren for even moss or lichen to grow upon. The tundra was hilly, with lakes, swamps, and hogs in the wide valleys and plains. As soon as I reached the flat hogs I heard the plaintive cry of a plover, and presently caught sight of two birds. The male was very conspicuous, but all my attempts to follow the female xvith my glass, in order to trace her to the nest, proved ineffectual; she was too nearly the color of the ground, and the herbage was too high. Feeling convinced that I was within SO paces of the nest, J shot the male, and commenced a diligent search. The bird proved to be the Asiatic golden plover, with gray axillaries, and I determined to devote at least an hour looking for the nest. By a wonderful piece of good fortune I found it, with four eggs, in less than five minutes. It was merely a hollow in the ground upon a piece of turfy land, overgrown with moss and lichen, and was Uned with broken stalks of reindeer moss. The eggs more resembled those of the golden than those of the grey plover, but were smaller than either.
Miss Maud D. Ilaviland (1915a) had considerable experience with this plover on the Yenesei and took some excellent photographs of it; she writes:
I first saw a few birds at Dudinka, where they were probably on migration, and afterwards the species was common all the way down to Goichika. Each pair occupied perhaps 2 furlongs of tundra. I should think that every acre of moss and lichen from the Yenesel to the Lena in summer Is thus parceled out. Your progress across the tundra In July is heralded and attended by a chorus of plaintive cries. Both birds meet you a quarter of a mile from the nest and never leave you until you are at the boundaries of their own territory, and they can safely hand you over to theIr next neighbors for espionage. Covert, of course, there is none: but It is needless to say more. The suspiciousness and patience of the golden plover are the same all the world over: and I will not dwell upon them to those who themselves have no doubt walked vainly for half a day about the bird’s breeding grounds in this country and listened to its maddening but at the same time most musical protests.
The first nest was found on July 4. It was a shallow depression, lined with dry lichen haulma on a slope of the tundra. The bird, which must, I think, either have been deaf or else exceedingly stupid, did not move until I was well over the hill and within 60 yards of her, when she jumped up and feigned a broken wing.
Eggs: The eggs are similar to those of the American golden plover; the ground colors average paler. In three sets they run from “light buff” to “cream color”; Mr. Brandt’s eggs run from “ivory yellow” to “vinaceous buff”; and in two eggs figured by Mr. Poynting (1895) the ground colors are in shades of “olive buff.” Mr. Brandt says in his notes:
The eggs of this bird are no doubt subject to much variation for the two sets are very different. On one the surface markings are distinct and elongated longitudinally while on the other clutch large blotches almost cover the larger end. These spots are brownish black to black where the pigment is rich, hut when occasionally it is thin, as on a few outlying edges, it becomes brick red. Pursuant to the usual rule with many of the boldly marked eggs of the shore birds the underlying spots are few and ill defined. These are In lavender tones from pale mouse gray to grayish lavender.
The measurements of 34 eggs average 48 by 33.2 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 51.8 by 32.5, 48.5 by 34.9, 45.2 by 32.4, and 46.4 by 31.5 millimeters.
Young: The incubation period is probably the same as it is for the European bird, 27 days; both sexes incubate the eggs and care for the young. Tha~~er and Bangs (1914) write:
Mr. Korea watched the habits of the birds closely and found that the males appear to do all the incubating in the early stages, the female at that time never being near the nest. Later on, when the eggs are nearly ready to hatch, she appears again and takes her turn with the male. When the young are hatched, both parent birds are always with them. At Cape Chelakhskai, August 27, 1912, large flocks of young birds were seen ready to migrate.
Miss liaviland (1915a) says:
As soon as the young ones were able to run alone, which, roughly speakIng, was about July 20, the birds left the higher ground and began to collect Into flocks in the marshy places of the tundra. I am inclined to think that the young birds must need to wash and drink a great deal, as otherwise it is not easy to understand why all the waders of the tundra should leave the nesting sites so early and wander down to the sphagnum swamps. Some of tbe Asiatic golden plover even crossed the mud hills and came down to the banks of the river.
Plumages: The downy young Pacific golden plover is like the American bird of the same age except that the yellow is rather brighter, about “lemon chrome,” and decidedly more extensive; it predominates over the black on the crown, back, and rump; there is very little white anywhere except in the patch under the eye and on the chin, throat, and under parts. Miss Haviland (1915a), however, says:
The white tract between the homogeneous mottling of the crown and nape, and the successive black and yellow bands which lie above and behind the eye, and which in C. apricarius is sometimes hardly discernible, is very pronounced in C. fulvus and has enlarged at the expense of the colored bands belo~v it. The nape and upper part of the body are more spotted with white, and there Is little or no yellow on the cheek below the eye.
Subsequent plumages and molts are apparently similar to those of the other golden plovers. Doctor Henshaw (1910) writes:
It is of interest to note that in fall this plover migrates before it molts; In spring it molts bcfore it migrates. The first birds to reach the archipelago in August are, as stated, adults, and while they are practically in full breeding dress they begin to molt into the winter dress almost at once. The molting season for the species is long, and many individuals, doubtless birds of the year, may be found the last of December still molting into the fall and winter dress. By the middle of February numerous individuals are already beginning to molt a second time and to assume the distinctive nuptial plumage, which, in the case of these early birds, is practically completed during the month of March, though individuals continue to moult far into April and some no doubt complete the final stages in Alaska. Doubtless the individuals to molt first in spring are the adults which arrive first, and finish the fall molt first; and doubtless, too, these are the birds first to leave Hawaii for their breeding grounds in Alaska. So protracted is the molt of the species that it is probably true that during the stay of this plover in Ha~vaii: from middle August till May: there is not a month when some individuals are not molting.
There is no reason for believiug that the plover summering in the Islands which, as before stated, are chiefly if not wholly immature birds, participate In the spring molt. At all events the Hawaiian summer plover and turnstones that I have seen were, without exception, In the winter garb.
Food: Lucien M. Turner (1886) says that, on their first arrival in Alaska, the plover “feed principally on berries of the Vai~cinium and Empetrivrn, as many of these berries do not dislodge until succeeding growths push them off.” Others have noted the same habit in late summer and early fall. Some observers on the Pribilof Islands have noted that they frequent the killing grounds and feed extensively on the blowfly maggots there. But Preble and McAtee (1923) say that in the two stomachs that they examined “none of these larvm were found, their food contents consisting of beetles, 72.5 per cent; flies, 22.5 per cent; Hymenoptera, 4 per cent; and seeds of crowberry (Fmpetrrum nigmim), 1 per cent.”
Doctor Henshaw (1910) writes:
During its stay in the islands the plover, as also the turlistoac, feed chiefly i~ the upland pastures and clearings, up to 6,000 or 7,000 feet, and on newly plowed cane land. Both the sugar planter and the stock raiser have much to thank the plover for, since, while the birds feed on small seeds to some extent, they live chiefly on insects, and according to Perkins, on insects of much economic importance, since they depend largely on the caterpillars of two of the most widely spread and destructive of the island “cut ~vorms.” These Insects are most abundant when the grass on the island pastures is green and luxuriant, and this usually Is in winter, when rains are most copious.
Behavior: The general behavior of the Pacific golden plover is not different from that of its commoner relatives. My personal ac. quaintance with it was made on the high rolling tundra and the foot. hills back of Nome, Alaska. Here we found it quite common during the middle of July, where it was evidently breeding or had been breeding; and we collected quite a series of adults, juvenals, and even downy young. As we walked over the tundra, we frequently heard their rich, melodious, whistling notes, or saw a richly colored adult, in full nuptial plumage, standing like a sentinel on some little hummock or ridge. Occasionally one would try to entice us away by running slowly through the hollows or by fluttering along the ground as if injured; but eventually it would take wing and circle back to where its young were probably hidden.
Mr. Brandt says in his notes:
The Pacific golden plover~s adroit movements in approaching his nest, made to deceive the hostile eye, were interesting, and well illustrate the tactics of the members of the plover family found about Hooper Bay. He would run rapidly without visible bodily effort, and then stop abruptly and remain motionless, not even turning his head. His course always lay across the little ridges, never along them, and he would follow the slight depressions, but usually came to a halt on a little eminence. Whea close to me, in order to get a wider range of vision, he would raise himself on the terminal joints of his toes and stretch up his neck, aU with a jerky motion, the whole reminding me somewhat of the action of the burrowing owl. If agitated he ran rapidly to and fro, uttering an occasional piping note, but seldom taking wing.
Voice: John T. Nichols describes tile notes of this plover very well as follows:
I have met this western race of the golden plover only on its breeding grounds (at Nome, Alaska) where its notes are quite unlike the flight note of the easterli bird in migration, though some have almost an identical quality with that call. Running about on the ground, voicing noisy protest at the invasion of its ground, it has two unlike cries used interchangeably, pccp! etc.; teodicc, etc.; the Iirst plaintive, the second mellow. Other less frequent notes al-c tudlcms and tdlu-ecp suggesting the semipalmated plover. When the two members of a pair alight together for a moment a note of greeting suggests in form the whip-poorwill’s call, piterween, piterwecu, piterwit or vccpcrwtp, pccj-lerwecu, pecpcrwip.
A different, striking note is associated with what seems to be nuptial display. A bird circles at moderate height waving widespread wings in slow, measured, tern-like manner, meanwhile uttering a loud, long-drawn, sweet pee-er-iccc, and in a few minutes dives to the tundra and alights. The form of this call is rather that of the black-bellied plover though its tone is that of the golden.
Miss Haviland (1915a) describes similar notes and observes that, “roughly speaking, the alarm note of the common golden plover is InoIlosyllabic; that of the Asiatic golden plover is dissyllabic; and that of the gray plover is distinctly trisyllabic in character.
Fall: The plover which breed in Alaska migrate over Bering Sea, stopping on the Pribilof Islands; the Jim-st birds, probably adults, come during August; the young birds come later, mainly in September and October, with one very late date, November 5. The few available dates for the Aleutian and Commander Islands are also late, September and October, probably young birds. The first birds to reach the Hawaiian Islands are adults in breeding plumage; they arrive about the middle or latter part of August; and Doctor Henshaw (1910) says “that they are invariably in good flesh and that some are very fat. Later arrivals, however, no doubt young of the year, are comparatively poor ill flesh and require considerable time to fatten.” This flight to these islands is a most remarkable feat, for, even granted that they can rest and feed to some extent on the surface of the ocean, it still remains a mystery how they can find this little group of islands in the middle of such a vast expanse of ocean. Doctor Hensha\v (1910) makes some suggestions which throw some light on the subject; he says:
About September the wind that prevails in the North Pacific immediately south of the Aleutians is from the northwest. It is generally believed that migrating birds prefer to fly on a beam wind. By heading southwest birds migrating to Hawaii might have the mmom-thwest abeam till about the neighborhood of latitude 300 where they would be almost sure to pick up the northeast trades. By then changing their course to southeast they would be enabled to fly with wind abeam till they sighted the islands. The Hawaiian Archipelago with the chain of low islands and sand spits to the northwest afford a reasonable chance for a successful landfall, since unitedly they stretch away in a very thin line for some 2,200 miles. Moreover the islands are close enough together so that migrants high in air would not be likely to miss them by passing between.
The birds which breed in Siberia are probably those that migrate through Mongolia and Japan and spend the winter in India, Burma, the Malay Archipelago, and Australia. Winter:
Maj. G. Ralph Meyer has sent me the following notes on this plover in the Hawaiian Islands:
The plover are very plentiful and I see them passing over every day. They usually arrive about the middle of August and remain until the middle of March. Along about that time of the year they seem to congregate on the flats on the northeast end of the island and probably leave from there on the long flight to Alaska. During the winter they alternate between the plains of the high central plateau of the island and the lowland on both sides of the island. On the east side there is some low grassy land and they are common there. On this side they frequent tide flats during the low tides and then go up into the central plateau during the high tides. They perhaps spend some of the time in sheltered ponds on this side and wherever they can find muddy flats on which to feed.
The call note when flying Is usually a whistled too-tv/we, easily imitated. They answer to the call note very readily and we use this when hunting them. We use plover decoys, placing them in the mud flats during high tide, and then at the turning of the tide the birds come from the direction of the mountains to feed. The decoys are placed on the highest part of the fiats, so that the birds will have no other place to alight. We face Ihe decoys up the wind, as the birds usually face that way when they are feeding. As they come near we call to them, merely imitating their call. They will circle around and finally decoy very nicely if they are not alarmed by any sudden movement. When circling around decoys they make a sort of chuckling noise, which I can not describe except as a chuckling whistle. Occasionally a wandering tattler will decoy and very often we get turnstones. On one occasion last year I saw a flock of about 20 to 30 birds, apparently turustones, flying in a “V” or semicircle formation, and the leader was undoubtedly a plover. The birds were a couple of hundred feet in the air, so I could not be sure of the turnstones, but I was sure of the plover. He was leading them, for they followed him wherever he went. On a visit to Hawaii in July, 1916, I found plover on the slopes of Mauna Loa, one of the high mountains of the island. I have never seen them on this island during the summer.
W. B. Alexander tells me that this plover is: a common visitor to Australian coasts, especially in summer, though some appear to be present at all seasons. While in Australia this species is usually found in small flocks and is partial to reedy swamps and the margins of lakes, as well as to estuaries fringed with mangroves. In fact, it evidently likes cover, though it may be met with on the open sea beach.
In his notes from Australia, Charles Barrett says:
All parts of the Commonwealth receive their quota of golden plover, and in the southern porlions of the country the birds are seen about the end of October (early summer). The species is nowhere very plentiful (A. J. Campbell), but I have seen it often, singly, or in small flocks, in different localities, chiefly along the seashore and on swampy land, seeking small shellfish. etc. Sometimes It associates with the black-bellied plover (Squatarola 8qtsatarolG). In the Capricorn Group I met with it in fair numbers on the Masthead Island beaches. Like other migrants observed among the isles, the plover were fresh arrivals, and each day their numbers increased. They were in poor condition and seemed to be exhausted after their great migratory flight. Some of the specimens taken by collectors In our party still retained some of the breeding plumage; in one example the breast was almost black.
In New South Wales I observed this species on the sand spits at the sea entrance to Wallis Lake in October, 1921. They were wary, but through field glasses we could see them busily seeking for food. In my own State, Victoria, specimens have been taken boib in the summer and winter plumage. The birds frequent open grass country, as well as the seashore; in fact, they are more abundant often in country of this class than elsewhere in a district. Frequently, however, they are seen along river banks and on sea beaches, feeding in company with other species.
Range: Alaska, Asia, Australia, and Oceania; casual in Europe and on the Pacific coast of North America.
Breeding ran ge.: The Pacific golden plover breed mainly in Siberia but, as mentioned under Pluvialie d. dorninica, they range also to western Alaska, where they apparently meet and intergrade with their eastern relatives. The breeding range may be stated as extending north to eastern Siberia (Yenisei River, Cape Chelyuskin, Liakhof Island, Nijni Kolymsk, Gape Baranof, Chaun Bay, and Cape Serdze); and Alaska (Wainwright). East to Alaska (Wainwright, probably Point Hope, probably Cape Blossom, Cape Prince of Wales, Nome, St. Michael, and Igiak Bay). South to Alaska (Igiak Bay); and Siberia (Bering Island, Kamchatka, and the Yenisei River). West to western Siberia (Yenisei River).
Winter range: The winter range extends north to India, China, Japan, and to Hawaiian Islands (Midway, Kauai, and Maui Islands). East to the Hawaiian Islands (Maui), Polynesia, and New Zealand. South to New Zealand and Tasmania. West to Tasmania, Australia, Melanesia, Java, Borneo, and India.
Migratio-n.: The migration of the Pacific golden plover nesting in Alaska, appears to be entirely oceanic, the flight in both directions being without intermediate stops. Nonbreeding individuals frequently remain all summer in the Hawaiian Islands and at other points in Oceania.
Spring Migration: Early dates of arrival are: China, Soochow, April 18, Shanghai, April 21, and Canton, April 30; Japan, Hakodate, May 7; Siberia, Bering Island, May 15, and Nijni Kolymsk, May 30; and Alaska, St. Michael, May 2, Bethel, May 8, Portage Bay, May 13, Hooper Bay, May 16, and Cape Prince of Wales, May 19.
Fall Migration: Late dates of fall departure are: Alaska, mouth of the Yukon River, October 12, St. Paul Island, October 25, and Attn Island, October 31; an~~ Siberia, Bering Island, October 28.
Casual records: This species has been reported as a casual from Algeria, Malta, Italy, Spain, Heligoland, Poland, and the British Isles (B. 0. IT.). In North America, specimens identified as this race, have been collected in British Colombia, Comox, November 2, 3, and 4, 1903, and Masset, August 10, 1920; Washington, Kahiotus, December 19, 1924; Idaho, Lake Chatcolet, October 1, 1923; and Maine, Scarborough, September 11, 1011.
Egg dates: Berina Sea coast of Alaska: 15 records, May 23 to July 1; 8 records, June 11 to 27. Siberia: 5 records, June 30 to July 5.