Photo: Glenn Bartley/Vireo

Semipalmated Plover

Charadrius semipalmatus

The most common of the small plovers on migration through most areas. On its breeding grounds in the north, it avoids the tundra habitat chosen by most shorebirds, nesting instead on gravel bars along rivers or ponds. In such surroundings, its seemingly bold pattern actually helps to make the plover inconspicuous, by breaking up its outline against the varied background. The name "semipalmated" refers to partial webbing between the bird's toes.
Conservation status Seriously depleted by unrestricted shooting in late 19th century, but has recovered well, currently widespread and common.
Family Plovers
Habitat Shores, tideflats. Favors very open habitats on migration, including broad mudflats, sandy beaches, lake shores, pools in salt marsh; sometimes in flooded fields or even plowed fields with other shorebirds. Tends to avoid flats overgrown with too much marsh vegetation. Breeds in the north, mostly on open flats of sand or gravel near water.
The most common of the small plovers on migration through most areas. On its breeding grounds in the north, it avoids the tundra habitat chosen by most shorebirds, nesting instead on gravel bars along rivers or ponds. In such surroundings, its seemingly bold pattern actually helps to make the plover inconspicuous, by breaking up its outline against the varied background. The name "semipalmated" refers to partial webbing between the bird's toes.
Photo Gallery
  • adult male, breeding
  • juvenile
  • adult, nonbreeding
  • juvenile
  • adult female, breeding
  • juvenile
  • adult, breeding
  • adult, nonbreeding
  • adult female, breeding
Feeding Behavior

Typically they run a few steps and then pause, then run again, pecking at the ground whenever they spot something edible. Will sometimes hold one foot forward and shuffle it rapidly over the surface of sand or mud, as if to startle small creatures into moving.


Eggs

4, rarely 3. Olive-buff to olive-brown, blotched with black and brown. Incubation is by both sexes, 23-25 days. Young: Downy young leave nest soon after hatching. Both parents tend young, but young find all their own food. Age at first flight about 23-31 days.


Young

Downy young leave nest soon after hatching. Both parents tend young, but young find all their own food. Age at first flight about 23-31 days.

Diet

Insects, crustaceans, worms. Diet varies with season and location. In breeding season and during migration inland, may feed mostly on insects, including flies and their larvae, also earthworms. On coast, eats many marine worms, crustaceans, small mollusks.


Nesting

In breeding season, male displays over territory by flying in wide circles with slow, exaggerated wingbeats, calling repeatedly. On ground, male may display by crouching with tail spread, wings open, and feathers fluffed up, while he gives calls with an excited sound. Nest site is on ground, amid sparse plant growth or on bare open gravel or sand, sometimes placed close to large rock or other landmark. Nest is shallow scrape in ground, sometimes lined with small leaves, other debris.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Migration

Migrates mostly late in spring and early in fall, with peak southbound flights in August. Has a very extensive winter range, along coasts from United States to southern South America.

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Migration

Migrates mostly late in spring and early in fall, with peak southbound flights in August. Has a very extensive winter range, along coasts from United States to southern South America.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A plaintive 2-note whistle, tu-wee. Also a soft, rather musical rattle.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.