Pacific Golden-Plover Pluvialis fulva Scientific name definitions

Oscar W. Johnson, Peter G. Connors, and Peter Pyle
Version: 1.1 — Published April 15, 2021

Diet and Foraging

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Main Foods Taken

Invertebrates, primarily terrestrial, some freshwater and marine; also berries, leaves, and seeds. Studies in other shorebirds (245) suggest that these plovers might retain seeds in digestive tract, transporting them over great distances during migrations. Small vertebrates are known to be eaten on occasion.

Microhabitat for Foraging

Varies with annual cycle and geographic location. Generally prefer microhabitats where plant cover is short or absent, allowing ease of movement and relatively unobstructed vision. Breeding birds forage on various types of tundra ranging from large expanses of low vegetation only a few centimeters tall (as on well-drained slopes) to wetter mosaics of low shrubs and grasses interspersed with openings. When young hatch, family groups move to moist shrub-grass areas for feeding and cover. Migrants and overwintering birds feed on wide array of substrates (see Habitat in Nonbreeding Range). Attracted to agricultural fields on overwintering range and during migration (183, 246, 247, 248; see 102, 179, 180). In Hawaii, urban-adapted plovers mostly forage on short grass substrates, but also glean insects from paved surfaces adjacent to grass; at the extreme some feed in open stands of ironwood trees. The latter shed conifer-like leaves, forming a dense insect-rich mat on which the plovers forage.

Food Capture and Consumption

Forages by repeated sequence of stop-run-stop or “run-stop-peck” (37). At stop, prey captured (usually after brief scanning of substrate), or capture attempt fails, or no prey seen. Capture is with single peck or series of pecks. When feeding on lawns in Hawaii, birds often peck vigorously and dig shallow holes, beak and portion of head sometimes buried in the turf; smaller prey and earthworms generally swallowed whole, large roaches and millipedes usually broken up by pecking and swallowed piece by piece (OWJ).

Sometimes run for several meters and immediately seize prey, indicating excellent visual perception. Probably most food recognition and choice related to eyesight; except for brief comments about probing above, no information concerning senses of taste, smell, touch. Berry-eating on tundra does not involve usual foraging behavior just described, instead bird pecks repeatedly in small area. Birds foraging amidst low bushes on breeding grounds sometimes peck leaves at eye level or above, likely capturing tiny spiders or insects (probably mosquitoes which were abundant when behavior was observed; OWJ). Spatial separation maintained during feeding, no cooperative foraging. Foraging behavior varies with reproductive duties (see Breeding: Incubation): if incubation underway, birds forage alone during off-duty hours; if not yet incubating or if eggs have hatched and parents are guarding young, mated birds usually forage together.

Wintering birds feed alone on territories well separated from neighbors, or in more closely spaced groups often consisting of non-territorial individuals (see Behavior: Spacing). General pattern is to return to feeding grounds before sunrise, forage during daylight hours, then gather at communal roosts for the night (see Behavior: Self-Maintenance; also Movements and Migration: Dispersal and Site Fidelity). Pacific Golden-Plovers observed feeding at night on Johnston Island (OWJ) and in northern New South Wales (249), the extent of this nighttime behavior elsewhere is unclear.


Major Food Items

General list of foods (42, 37) includes: various adult and larval insects such as grasshoppers, beetles, grubs, cutworms, wireworms; earthworms; small molluscs and crustaceans; spiders; crowberries (Empetrum spp.) and blueberries (Vaccinium spp.). Regional reports list numerous foods including: crane fly larvae, beetles, spiders, slugs, earthworms, freshwater crustaceans, crowberries (Siberia; 22, 150, 250, 58, 251); assorted annelids, molluscs, crustaceans, leaves and seeds, many kinds of insects, small fish, lizards, even bird eggs (Africa, Australia, Laysan Island; 252, 253, 12, 254); brine shrimp (Laysan Island; M. Naughton, personal communication); skinks (Canton Island, central Pacific Ocean; Gilbert and Ellice Islands, Micronesia; 255, 25); grubs of emerald beetle (Protaetia pryeri) (Midway Atoll; 256); polychaetes and mussels (Malay Peninsula; 257); leafhoppers (Nephotettix cincticeps), earthworms, leeches (rice fields, Japan; 258, 259); noctuid moths and caterpillars (Hawaii; 260); roaches, bees, ants, dipteran flies, earwigs, earthworms, sowbugs, mites (Hawaii; 261); slugs, millipedes (Hawaii; OWJ); blind snake, skinks, geckos, flowers and leaf parts from Bidens sp., Indigofera spicata, and other unidentified plants (Hawaii; P. Bruner and A. Bruner, personal communication); possibly small mice (Hawaii and Johnston Island; OWJ and D. O'Daniel, personal communication).

Berries are particularly important in spring and fall. At spring arrival, berries from the previous year may be one of few foods available. The latter are sometimes very abundant, with densities reaching 200,000/ha (262). The new berry crop is used by fall migrants during stopover and no doubt by juveniles remaining on breeding grounds after departure of adults (see Movements and Migration: Timing and Routes of Migration). Fallout of airborne arthropods on snow patches might provide a limited early-spring food source (263).

An injured Pacific Golden-Plover adapted readily to feeding in captivity (on earthworms, insects, snails, tail of salamander) and was conditioned to take food from the hand within 6 d (264). Various human/plover feeding relationships occur in Hawaii where some overwintering plovers learn to glean discarded scraps of food (bread, rice, chicken, french fries, apple) on lawns or pavement (P. Bruner and A. Bruner, personal communication; OWJ); one individual learned to take earthworms from the hand (A. Dibben-Young, personal communication), another became conditioned to alight on the palm of an outstretched hand from which it ate mealworms (B. Riddle, personal communication; see 160); and plovers offered french fries in parking lot of a fast food restaurant on Oahu, Hawaii, learned to carry them off (held in their beaks) to nearby rooftops so as to avoid competition from Common Myna (Acridotheres tristis) and other birds (OWJ).

Natural foods are very limited on tiny Johnston Island, central Pacific Ocean, and Pacific Golden-Plovers overwintering there learned to gather in flocks (up to 150+) at certain times of day for supplemental feeding (mostly scraps of bread) by island residents (19). Such behavior raises possibility that artificial feeding might be a useful management tool for this species in some situations.

Thousands of carcasses from commercial seal harvest in the Pribilof Islands, Alaska, formerly produced myriad of insects used by migrating shorebirds (see 265), including the Pacific Golden-Plover. This localized trophic resource much diminished in recent years since killing of seals is now restricted to subsistence hunting only.

Quantitative Analysis

Stomach contents of 2 individuals collected in Pribilof Islands, contained 72.5% beetles (mostly Pterostichus sp., Amara sp., and Carabus truncaticollis; also Chrysomela subsulcata and Staphylinidae), 22.5% flies (primarily larval Tipulidae), 4.0% Hymenoptera (a wasp, Amblyteles alpestriformis, plus an unidentified species), 1.0% crowberry (Empetrum nigrum) seeds (266); on Wrangel Island, Russia, 3 birds had collectively eaten 65 Tipulidae larvae, 11 Diptera larvae, 3 ground beetles, 1 leaf beetle, and 3 small lemming bones (69); on Yamal Peninsula, Russia, 1 individual collected 19 June contained 26 gnats (Empidae), 1 mosquito, and 2 beetles, another taken 31 July contained 2 beetles plus beetle larvae (200); in Kolyma River region of Russia, 15 birds (10 adults, 5 chicks) were feeding extensively on oligochaetes, rapid dissolution of which in stomach may obscure relative importance of this food in overall diet (250). Four analyses from Oahu, Hawaii: 4 birds feeding on grassy area contained 91% insects (primarily weevil Sphenophorus venatus vestita), 9% miscellaneous (grit, unidentified plant material, feathers); 16 birds from saline mudflat had eaten 69% insects (mostly Sphenophorus venatus vestita), 17.5% crustaceans, 13.5% same miscellaneous; 3 specimens collected on another saline mudflat contained 47% crustaceans, 17% melanid snails, 1% Coleoptera, 35% same miscellaneous; 33 birds from grazed pasture contained 86% insects (Coleoptera, Isopoda, Orthoptera), 14% miscellaneous insects, plus lead shot and snails (267, 66).

Nutrition and Energetics

No specific information. As noted above, lemming bones (presumably scavenged from pellets and scats of predators) are occasionally found in plover stomachs, hence this material may be a calcium source for eggshell production and growth of juveniles (see 268). Stomach samples from European Golden-Plover suggest that females ingest bones, males do not (37), no comparable data for Pacific Golden-Plover. Since small bones are not predictably available, and since stomachs from shorebirds collected on tundra breeding grounds often contain no calcareous material (269, 270), it remains uncertain how females acquire sufficient calcium for egg-laying which sometimes includes a replacement clutch (see Demography and Populations: Measures of Breeding Activity). There is no information on body mass of these plovers at arrival on nesting grounds, and the energy demands associated with breeding (e.g., egg-laying, incubation) have not been explored. Based on studies of other shorebirds (271, 272, 201), energy stores at arrival on breeding grounds (capital) may be partly used for egg production, but the latter is likely to depend mostly on nutrients acquired after arrival (income).

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

Studies of overwintering adults in Hawaii showed a high (passerine-like) basal metabolic rate (BMR) at 1.31 W ± 0.41 SD, n = 12; mean rectal temperature 40.5°C ± 0.6 SD, n = 11; and average rate of weight loss during captivity 0.61 g/h ± 0.13 SD, n = 9 (273). Basal metabolic rate is possibly higher on nesting grounds (274).

Drinking, Pellet-Casting, and Defecation

Requirements for drinking are unknown. Flights of Pacific Golden-Plovers to watering places were observed years ago in Hawaiian Islands, but there are no recent reports (275, 260, 276). On overwintering grounds on Oahu, plovers were seen drinking and bathing in puddles after or during rain (172); availability of puddles is highly variable, sometimes extended periods without precipitation; hot, dry conditions prompt frequent head-shaking to toss droplets of moisture from beak, suggesting that nasal salt glands (supraorbital glands) are important for water conservation (OWJ). Skull morphology indicates that Pacific Golden-Plover has larger supraorbital glands than American Golden-Plover, a difference suggesting the former is better adapted to marine environments during the nonbreeding period (37).

No reports of pellet-casting, but occasional regurgitation of pellets or unconsolidated particles may occur, based on observations in other shorebirds. Nothing unusual concerning defecation.

Pacific Golden-Plover
Basic (nonbreeding) Pacific Golden-Plover with beetle grub.

Forages by repeated sequence of stop-run-stop or “run-stop-peck”. Main foods taken include terrestrial, freshwater, and marine invertebrates, and berries, leaves, seeds.

© Eric VanderWerf, Midway Islands, United States Minor Outlying Islands, 15 Feb 2017
Pacific Golden-Plover
Basic (nonbreeding) Pacific Golden-Plover with prey item.

When feeding on lawns in Hawaii, Pacific Golden-Plovers often peck vigorously and dig shallow holes, beak and portion of head sometimes buried in the turf; smaller prey and earthworms generally swallowed whole, large roaches and millipedes usually broken up by pecking and swallowed piece by piece.

© Daniel Murphy, Hawaii, United States, 29 Mar 2016

Recommended Citation

Johnson, O. W., P. G. Connors, and P. Pyle (2021). Pacific Golden-Plover (Pluvialis fulva), version 1.1. In Birds of the World (P. G. Rodewald, B. K. Keeney, and S. M. Billerman, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.pagplo.01.1