Conservation status Huge numbers were shot in late 19th century, and population apparently has never recovered to historic levels. May be limited now by loss of habitat on South American wintering range.
Family Plovers
Habitat Prairies, mudflats, shores; tundra (summer). During migration, usually found on short-grass prairies, flooded pastures, plowed fields; less often on mudflats, beaches. Breeds on Arctic tundra. In western Alaska, where it overlaps with Pacific Golden-Plover, the American tends to nest at higher elevations, on more barren tundra slopes.
A trim, elegant plover. Swift and graceful in flight, probably one of the fastest fliers among shorebirds, and with good reason: it migrates every year from Arctic Alaska and Canada to southern South America. Flocks of northbound migrants, in their striking spring plumage, are seen mostly in the heartland of our continent, on the Great Plains and the Mississippi Valley; there they often forage in open fields and prairies, far from water.

Feeding Behavior

Typically they walk or run a few steps and then pause, then move forward again, pecking at the ground whenever they spot something edible.


4, sometimes 3. Pale buff to cinnamon, boldly blotched with black and brown, well camouflaged when seen against varied tundra vegetation. Incubation is by both parents, about 26-27 days. Male reportedly incubates by day, female at night. Young: Downy young leave nest shortly after hatching. Both parents tend young, but young find all their own food. Age at first flight about 22-24 days.


Downy young leave nest shortly after hatching. Both parents tend young, but young find all their own food. Age at first flight about 22-24 days.


Mostly insects. On breeding grounds, apparently feeds mostly on insects, including flies, beetles, and others, also some snails and seeds. In migration in open fields, eats wide variety of insects, including grasshoppers, caterpillars, larvae of beetles. On shores, also feeds on small crustaceans and mollusks. In late summer, may eat many berries.


Males perform flight display over breeding territory by flying high, with exaggerated slow, deep wingbeats, while repeatedly giving a short kt-dlink call. In courtship, male walks up to female in crouching posture with tail raised, neck stretched forward. Nest site is on ground on very open, dry tundra. Nest (probably built by male) is shallow depression in tundra, lined with lichens, moss, grass, leaves.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

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Northward migration in spring is mostly through Great Plains. In fall, most birds apparently make nonstop flight from eastern Canada to northern South America; some pause along our Atlantic Coast, especially after storms with northeast winds.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon

See a fully interactive migration map for this species on the Bird Migration Explorer.

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Songs and Calls

A mellow quee-lee-la.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.