Bird GuidePloversBlack-bellied Plover

At a Glance

This stocky plover breeds in high Arctic zones around the world, and winters on the coasts of six continents. Some can be seen along our beaches throughout the year (including non-breeding immatures through the summer). Although the Black-bellied Plover is quite plain in its non-breeding plumage, it adds much to the character of our shorelines with its haunting whistles, heard by day or night.
Plovers, Sandpiper-like Birds
Low Concern
Coasts and Shorelines, Fields, Meadows, and Grasslands, Freshwater Wetlands, Saltwater Wetlands, Tundra and Boreal Habitats
Alaska and The North, California, Eastern Canada, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Direct Flight, Formation, Rapid Wingbeats, Running

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

Most migrate along coast or over sea, but numbers stop over regularly at some inland sites. Winter range remarkably extensive, from New England and southwestern Canada to southern South America, Africa, Australia. Females may tend to winter farther south than males. Most immatures apparently do not go to breeding grounds in summer; may remain through season on more southerly coasts.


10-13" (25-33 cm). Short thick bill. Compare to golden-plovers. In winter, mottled back and chest (not smooth, like plovers). In flight, note black "wingpits," whitish rump and tail. Some sandpipers also short-billed and gray in winter (see Sanderling and Red Knot).
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Robin
Black, Brown, Gray, White
Wing Shape
Long, Narrow, Pointed, Tapered
Tail Shape
Rounded, Short, Square-tipped

Songs and Calls

A clear whistled pee-a-wee.
Call Pattern
Flat, Rising
Call Type
Trill, Whistle


Mudflats, open marshes, beaches; in summer, tundra. For nesting favors drier tundra, often more barren ridges above lowland lakes and rivers. Sometimes in lower wet tundra near coast. In winter mostly on open sand beaches, tidal flats. During migration will often stop in short-grass prairie or plowed fields.



4, sometimes 3. Buff to gray-green, with darker blotches. Incubation is by both parents, 26-27 days.


Downy young leave nest shortly after hatching, find all their own food. Both parents tend young at first, then female leaves before young are 2 weeks old. If predator threatens, adults may lure it away by putting on broken-wing act. Adults also mob predatory birds that come near nest area. Young are able to fly at 35-45 days; adult male may leave before young fledge.

Feeding Behavior

Typically they run a few steps and then pause, then run again, pecking at the ground whenever they spot something edible. Sometimes probes for hidden prey.


Insects, mollusks, crustaceans, marine worms. Diet on northern tundra is mostly insects, also some mollusks, and small amount of plant material. In coastal situations (where it spends most of year), eats many polychaete worms, also mollusks, crustaceans, some insects.


Male displays on territory by flying with slow, deep wingbeats, giving clear whistled notes. Female may be attracted by this display. In courtship, male lands near female, runs stiffly toward her with head low. Nest site is on dry ground, often somewhat raised on ridge or hummock, with good visibility. Nest is a shallow scrape, lined with pebbles and bits of plant material; male begins scrape, female adds lining.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

Population trends would be difficult to detect. No evidence of widespread change in numbers.

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Black-bellied Plover. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Black-bellied Plover

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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