Golden Plover

Pluvialis apricaria

26-29cm

Appearance

A medium-sized, dumpy and attractively marked wader. It has a small, rounded head, rather long legs and a short bill. There are subtle differences between the sexes in summer, and identification can be difficult because of the variances in the plumages of the races found in the region. The summer adult has shiny golden upperparts; a band of white separates that area from the dark underparts, which tend to lighten towards the face and neck. The markings of the British female are more subtle and the face is often lighter, even cream-coloured. Birds who breed in the north of Europe (seen in the region in late winter and early spring) are more uniformly black from the breast to the face; the female resembles the male of the British race. In winter, the underparts whiten, the golden is more dull and the head and neck are buffish and streaked. Juveniles resemble winter adults. When flying, birds have a wing-bar through the middle of the wings and a white underwing.

Habitat

Breeding grounds in upland Scotland, northern England, Wales and the west of Ireland. Favours blanket bog, heather moorland and limestone grassland in the region. During the winter, it has traditional sites on inland grassland or farmland, and can roost on coastal marshes and estuaries.

Character

Has a feeding routine that's typical of plovers; it runs quickly along sand or mud then halts suddenly before tilting the body and pecking prey from the ground. It has a spring display ritual which involves rigid wings and flight similar to that of a butterfly. Lives in flocks year-round with thousands of birds congregating at traditional sites in autumn and winter, often socialising with Lapwings. Some birds are in the company of Dunlin, which takes advantage of the Golden Plover's early warning call of danger.

Food

Diet includes beetles and earthworms, caterpillars, larvae of craneflies, ants, earwigs, spiders, snails and plant material including berries, leaves and seeds.

Breeding

Not uncommon for females to have two mates; she may desert the first male and brood in order to change location with new mate. Nesting begins in mid-April; female lays 2-4 eggs which are incubated by both adults for 28-31 days. Hatchlings can fly after about 25-33 days and are quickly independent.

Population

Majority of the birds that breed in Britain stay in the region, migrating to coastal areas or low farmland after nesting. Most of the birds that spend winter in Ireland and western Britain come from Iceland. More than 38 000 pairs breed in the UK and over 200 in Ireland. Numbers are boosted in the winter, with 400 000 individuals in the UK and 166 000 in Ireland.

Observation Tips

The distinctive call of this bird is a good indication of its presence; listen out for it while walking upland in northern England and Scotland in spring and summer. Lowland, open agricultural areas are a good place to observe flocks during the winter.

Voice

Has a melancholy 'pu-peeoo' and a resounding 'per-we-oo, per-wee-oo' heard in flight.
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