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 Golden Plover - Fact File

Golden Plover
Summer male (see article for winter illustration).

Pluvialis apricaria
Breeds on upland moors and bogs, mainly in the north and west of the region, largest numbers in Scotland (absent as a breeding bird from S/E England and S/E Ireland, but present in winter). Winter population larger and more widespread (largely leaves upland areas).
See above for breeding habitat. In winter found on arable fields, grasslands and coastal flats and saltings.

Black uderparts and gold spangled upperparts distinctive. Female shows less black than male. Has rather square headed shape.Plainer in winter (see illustration). In flight shows white 'armpits', which help separate from Grey Plover which has black 'armpits'.

27cm (11")
 

Golden Plover

The golden plover deserves a special mention. The bird's fortunes locally began changing some three decades ago following a change in land use from grazing marsh to arable. Flights of 1000 and even more began putting in regular appearances.

Even more spectacular events have taken place since. In the 1991-92 winter up to 2300 regularly assembled on the drained muds at Breydon during November, December and January. This high total was soon eclipsed: in December 1992 a remarkable 5100 golden plovers regularly resorted to the flats.

My diary described the scene at sunset: shallow pools reflecting the orange sky attracted scores of plovers all intent on rapid bathing before heading for the rain-soaked marshes. And all were silhouetted against a fiery sky.

When returning to Breydon shortly after high water, the great flights of plovers often arrive at a considerable height. Their chorus of plaintive piping (often heard well before the birds can be seen) is a joy to hear and conjures up pictures of wild and desolate moorland and tundra. Ever wary and alert, if you are very fortunate, the flight will pass overhead at high speed and in chevron formation, sharply pointed wings giving the birds complete mastery of the air.

Golden Plover - Winter PlumageFor minutes on end the gold spangled plovers may indulge in aerial manoeuvres, turning, twisting and diving headlong in unison high over the estuary. And each performance ends in a final swoop and a flicker of white underwings at the moment of alighting.

left - winter plumage

.By Michael J Seago

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Illustrations by Dave Nurney from - The Pocket Guide to the Birds Of Britain and North-West Europe By Chris Kightley and Steve Madge
© Pica Press and reproduced with kind permission.