Pacific Golden-Plover Pluvialis fulva Scientific name definitions

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


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The Pacific Golden-Plover has a colorful past in both prehistoric and historic times. Many have suggested that the migratory cycle of this species was interpreted by seafaring Polynesians as an indicator of undiscovered land to the north, thus leading to colonization of the Hawaiian Islands (e.g., 410, 411, 412, 413). Indeed, the relationship between plover migration and Polynesian exploration was portrayed on a U.S. postage stamp commemorating the 25th anniversary of Hawaii statehood in 1984. However, the possibility of following the birds northward is diminished by recent tracking (with GPS tags and geologgers) in the Central and South Pacific showing that plovers departing nonbreeding grounds in spring do not fly toward Hawaii, but instead they travel northwest to Japan. Perhaps the ancient seafarers took their cue not from departing birds but rather from plovers returning in fall via the mid-Pacific Flyway (see maps of the migratory cycle in 102, 179, 181).

Midden remains and accounts of early observers indicate that plovers were a seasonal food resource for Hawaiians, and fat spring (premigratory) birds may have been used as a source of lamp oil. Birds were captured with grooved “kolea stones” to which were attached either leg snares or gorges baited with grubs; thus prepared, the stones were placed on the ground at sites where plovers gathered (380, 414, 415, 416, 417). This species also figured prominently in ancient Hawaiian culture and is often mentioned in hula chants and traditional folklore; it is considered to be the embodiment of Koleamoku, a god of healing, and as a messenger of high chiefs (418, 419, 420).

The Pacific Golden-Plover was discovered by European explorers during the second Pacific voyage of Captain James Cook. The type specimen was collected on 26 August 1773 at Matavai Bay, Tahiti, by J. R. Forster. Subsequent events in the history of the species involved several famous naturalists and other notable figures; a detailed account, including plover-related records from all three of Cook’s Pacific expeditions has been published (421).

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