Bird GuidePloversSemipalmated Plover

At a Glance

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.
Plovers, Sandpiper-like Birds
Low Concern
Coasts and Shorelines, Freshwater Wetlands, Lakes, Ponds, and Rivers, 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, Rapid Wingbeats, Running

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

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.


6-8" (15-20 cm). Dark brown back, single dark chest band. Legs usually orange. Darker above than Snowy or Piping Plovers, much smaller bill than Wilson's Plover. See downy young Killdeer.
About the size of a Robin, About the size of a Sparrow
Black, Brown, Orange, White
Wing Shape
Long, Pointed, Tapered
Tail Shape
Rounded, Short, Square-tipped, Wedge-shaped

Songs and Calls

A plaintive 2-note whistle, tu-wee. Also a soft, rather musical rattle.
Call Pattern
Falling, Rising
Call Type
Trill, Whistle


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.



4, rarely 3. Olive-buff to olive-brown, blotched with black and brown. Incubation is by both sexes, 23-25 days.


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.

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.


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.


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.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

Seriously depleted by unrestricted shooting in late 19th century, but has recovered well, currently widespread and common.

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 Semipalmated Plover. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Semipalmated 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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