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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Systematics History

Closely related to American Golden-Plover, with which formerly considered conspecific.

Geographic Variation

Variation is slight across the species’ range, but birds that breed in Siberia tend to have shorter wings than birds that breed in western Alaska (see Measurements). Geographic variation in wing length, molt, and migration suggests that the Alaskan and Siberian breeding populations be distinguished as different subspecies 72.


No subspecies are known. Based on differences in morphometrics, wing molt, and migratory routes, Jukema et al. (41) suggested that Pacific Golden-Plovers comprise 2 subspecies, one breeding in Siberia, the other in Alaska.

Related Species

The family Charadriidae, the plovers and lapwings, is well supported and is one of the core groups in the shorebird (Charadriiformes) radiation. Within Charadriidae, the genus Pluvialis is also well defined (73): it consists of 4 species worldwide, each broadly similar in shape, size, and general plumage pattern (see Identification), although Pluvialis squatarola (the Black-bellied Plover, or “Grey Plover” in Europe) differs from the 3 golden-plovers, Pluvialis dominica (the American Golden-Plover), Pluvialis fulva (the Pacific Golden-Plover), and Pluvialis apricaria (the European Golden-Plover) in having a vestigial hind toe. The 4 species have been compared and contrasted in terms of downy plumages (74), osteology (75, 76, 77), allozymes (78, 79, 80), DNA–DNA hybridization (81), and vocalizations (82). Relationships within the Charadriidae are less clear, and it may be that Pluvialis is rather distantly related to Vanellus (lapwings) and Charadrius (shore plovers) (83, 84), the 2 most speciose genera in the family.

Pluvialis fulva and Pluvialis dominica were long considered to be conspecific, and were treated collectively under the English name, the Lesser Golden-Plover. Following initial arguments for a split (15), subsequent evidence indicated “clear and consistent differences in breeding vocalizations and nesting habitat, and strict assortative mating in areas of sympatry in western Alaska” (85). Speciation of Pluvialis fulva and Pluvialis dominica probably occurred about 1.8 million years ago (86) in refugia associated with Pleistocene glaciation. A plausible evolutionary scenario for the origins of these taxa, plus Pluvialis apricaria, proposed that the fledgling taxa were initially isolated during a warm interglacial within cold tundra refugia of northern Greenland–Ellesmere Island (Pluvialis apricaria) and highlands on either side of the Bering Strait (Pluvialis fulva and Pluvialis dominica) (87). The 3 incipient species remained isolated during the last glacial maximum in tundra refugia of Europe–western Russia (Pluvialis apricaria), Beringia (Pluvialis fulva), and northeastern North America (P. dominica). Subsequent colonization of western Alaska by Pluvialis fulva likely came from the Chukotsk Peninsula, with Pluvialis dominica colonizing from the opposite direction (88). Different “requirements of migration and winter range” that yielded selective pressures against hybrids may have driven speciation of the 2 North American species (15).

Genetic analysis by Withrow and Winker (86) indicated rare occurrence of Pluvialis fulva x Pluvialis dominica hybridization. Other reports suggesting possible Pluvialis fulva x Pluvialis apricaria hybrids (89) are of uncertain validity and may represent individual variation within each species rather than interbreeding.


Note that Charadrius xanthocheilus Wagler, 1827, C. taitensis Lesson, 1828, C. glaucopus Forster, 1844, C. orientialis Temminck and Schlegel, 1845, and C. longipes Schlegel, 1854, are junior synonyms of Pluvialis fulva (Gmelin, 1789).

Fossil History

Little is known concerning the fossil history of the Charadriidae (90). Bones of “Pluvialis sp.” were found in late Pleistocene cave sediments in northeastern Mexico (91). Pacific Golden-Plover fossils ranging from “6,700 ybp (years before present) to much younger” were reported from Oahu, Molokai, and Kauai in the Hawaiian Islands (92). Fossil bones of Pacific Golden-Plover dating to 120,000 ybp found in Pleistocene lake deposit on Oahu represent “oldest available evidence” for trans-Pacific migration in this species (93).

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