Australian Bush Birds
Lesser Golden Plover  -  Pluvialis dominica
Lesser Golden Plover
Lesser Golden Plover on tidal sand flats at Urunga on the New South Wales coast. The broad white stripe down the neck is a feature of breeding plumage.
head front view
Left. Head showing the black beak, round dark eye, white line above the eye, and mottled brown head.
Right. The black blobs down the breast are part of breeding plumage.
map map The Lesser Golden Plover - Pluvialis dominica - is a migratory bird spending its non-breeding season in Australia from September-October leaving from May onwards; some remain for the winter. Breeding plumage is characterised by black breast and black belly which has usually been mostly replaced by the time birds reach Australia. In their Australian non-breeding plumage Lesser Golden Plovers have mottled brown and golden-buff upper parts; the face, sides of the neck and above the eye are pale buff with a broad buff eyebrow. The eye is dark brown and the bill black. Breast mottled with grey-brown and suffused with pale buff; legs and feet dark slate. From a distance these plovers appear dull grey-brown. Length about 250 millimetres. Male and female are alike in appearance.

In breeding plumage the upper parts are darker with conspicuous golden spangling; the breast, belly, under tail and face are black. There is a broad white stripe from the forehead, over the eyes to the flanks.

This bird breeds in northern Siberia to western Alaska in the northern summer then migrates down the western side of the Pacific and through eastern Asia, India then southeast Asia to reach Australia and New Zealand in the southern summer.

Lesser Golden Plover - page 2
Many arrivals are still in black-breasted breeding plumage which moults in several weeks. Flight and tail feathers also moult.

In Australia, plovers remain on rocky coasts, mud flats, estuaries and marshes around the coast and occasionally inland. Single birds and small groups frequently fly between favoured areas, mainly at night. They spread out at low tide to feed on exposed flats, walking along and tipping over to pick up molluscs or crustaceans, and occasionally insects or vegetable matter.

As the tide returns, plovers gather in flocks of a hundred or more to rest or roost on higher ground. The same resting grounds are used repeatedly; these are usually isolated rocks or debris-strewn beaches where their plumage blends as camouflage. Sometimes they rest on dry pasture and paddocks several kilometres inland flying there in tight groups.

During April plovers accumulate fat preparing for migration beginning in May. Some breeding birds begin changing to breeding plumage before leaving Australia.

While the plover is in Australia it is distributed around the Australian coast; locally abundant around the north, east and southeast coasts between October and April. Some remain through winter. Scarce on the west coast.

There is not wide agreement on terminology for this species and the name Pluvialis fulva is sometimes used. Alternatively, the Australian bird is described as P. dominica sub-species fulva; another naming scheme suggests two species breeding in the northern hemisphere are involved, P. fulva migrates to Australia, east Asia and south-east Asia and the Pacific Islands while P. dominica migrates to South America. Common names 'Pacific Golden Plover', 'American Golden Plover', 'Eurasian Golden Plover', are variously used. Identification is complicated by the presence of birds in non-breeding, breeding, and transitional plumage.