American Golden-Plover (Pluvialis fulva)

Photo by Dennis Malueg American Golden-Plover by Dennis Malueg


Population Information

There are currently no broad-scale projects designed to identify population size or monitor changes within shorebird populations (Brown et al. 2001). The North American population estimate is 200,000 (Morrison et al. 2006).

Life History

Habitat Selection

The American Golden-Plover nests in sparse, low vegetation on arctic and subarctic tundra. In Wisconsin it is an uncommon to fairly common migrant in a variety of open habitats, including plowed farm fields, sod farms, pastures, Great Lakes beaches, and mudflats (Robbins 1991, Johnson and Connors 1996, Tessen 2000). The suitability of these habitats varies from year to year due to differences in precipitation and agricultural practices. For instance, in wet autumn seasons less plowing occurs and fewer birds are found across the state (Robbins 1991).

Habitat Availability

Although the American Golden-Plover and other shorebirds are opportunistic and can capitalize on food resources wherever available during migration, the loss of wetlands, tiling and draining of agricultural fields, and conversion of grassland habitats has reduced foraging opportunities in Wisconsin. Prior to Euro-American settlement, wetlands occupied an estimated four million hectares of the total fourteen million hectares of Wisconsin’s land area. Today, 53% (2.1 million hectares) of these wetland habitats remain (WDNR 2003) and conditions at these sites can be extremely variable and highly dependent on precipitation and hydrology patterns (Szalay et al. 2000). Furthermore, exotic species (e.g., purple loosestrife, zebra mussel, carp) and industrial effluents have the potential to reduce invertebrate food resources at these sites (WDNR 2005). The conversion of pastures and other short-grass habitats to row crops also reduces foraging habitat in the state. Of the 850,000 hectares of native prairie present prior to Euro-American settlement, less than 4,000 hectares remain today (WDNR 2005).

Population Concerns

American Golden-Plover populations experienced precipitous declines during the market hunting era but have slowly recovered after regulatory protection was established in 1918 by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (Johnson and Connors 1996). Today, the North American population estimate is approximately 200,000 (Morrison et al. 2006). Several factors complicate population trend monitoring for this species, including their use of ephemeral wetland habitats, the difficulty in distinguishing American and Pacific Golden-Plover, and a lack of information on turnover rates which confounds interpretation of migration surveys (Brown et al. 2001). Limiting factors are unknown (Brown et al. 2001), although ongoing broad-scale habitat alteration and land use changes on the wintering grounds likely are significant threats (Johnson and Connors 1996, Szalay et al. 2000).

Recommended Management

Preventing habitat destruction and minimizing factors that compromise the maintenance of invertebrate populations are important management considerations. The continuation of wetland management, protection, and restoration efforts such as the Wetlands Reserve Program, Partners for Fish and Wildlife, and North American Wetland Conservation Act will benefit this and other waterbird species. Wetland restoration efforts should create complexes of seasonal and semipermanent wetlands within areas that will increase overall wetland connectivity (Knapp 2001). Management actions (e.g., disking and flooding, control of invasive wetland plants, periodic, slow drawdown) that create mosaics of mudflats and shallow water areas will provide foraging habitat for American Golden-Plover and other migrant shorebirds (Eldridge 1992). Managed wetland drawdowns should coincide with shorebird migration but should be staggered across units to extend habitat and food resource availability throughout the entire migratory period (Helmers 1992). Partnerships between state and federal agencies and private organizations dedicated to the restoration, conservation, and management of grassland ecosystems also will benefit the long-term management of American Golden-Plover and other grassland-associated species. Conservation and management efforts for this species should be focused in the following Wisconsin ecological landscapes: Forest Transition, Northern Highland, Northern Lake Michigan Coastal, Southeast Glacial Plains, and Superior Coastal Plain (WDNR 2005).

Research Needs

Although research needs for American Golden-Plover and most other shorebird species are significant, of primary importance is the identification of population limiting factors. This information is essential to better understand which factors need to be changed to increase shorebird populations. Improved survey methods and an institutional capacity for monitoring shorebirds also are urgently needed (Brown et al. 2001). A state assessment of the distribution, abundance, conditions, and ownership of wetlands and other important shorebird habitats also would further management efforts and guide future restoration projects (Szalay et al. 2000). More information on the dynamics of migration patterns is warranted, including how populations move among sites and why (Brown et al. 2001). In Wisconsin, comparative studies on the feeding ecologies of migrant shorebirds would help determine how coexisting species and their prey react to different wetland management regimes and habitat conditions. Color-banding individuals at stopover sites may help to determine length of stay, refueling capacity, impacts of disturbance, and important habitat features associated with these sites (Davis and Smith 1998, Szalay et al. 2000, Brown et al. 2001). Finally, all aspects of the wintering ecology and behavior of the American Golden-Plover warrant study (Johnson and Connors 1996).

Information Sources


Contact Information

Kreitinger, K., Y. Steele and A. Paulios, editors. 2013.
The Wisconsin All-bird Conservation Plan, Version 2.0. Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative.
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Madison, WI.

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