Ringed Plover

Charadrius hiaticula

18-20cm

Appearance

This is a small, stout wader, fuller chested than the Little Ringed Plover. There are small differences between male and females and the plumage differs slightly by season. Summer adults have sandy-brown upperparts and white underparts, white foreheads, a black face marking that looks like a mask, a white collar and a full black breast-band. The legs are orange-yellow and the bill is orange with a black tip. When flying there are diagnostic white wing-bars and the tail is brown with white edges. The black components of the plumage are subdued in a female. In winter adults, the black sections of plumage on the head are sandy-brown, and the bill and legs are duller. Juveniles don't have the black mask or the white markings on the head, and the breast-band is usually incomplete.

Habitat

Found on appropriate (largely unspoiled) beaches of Britain and Ireland, though not the south-west of England. Prefers sandy or shingly beaches for nesting, but has adapted to inland locations such as gravel pits, river margins and old industrial areas. Strictly coastal when not in breeding season.

Character

Has a feeding routine that's typical of plovers; it runs quickly along sand or mud then halts suddenly before tilting the body and pecking prey from the ground. It flies quickly and usually low, and has a spring display ritual which involves rigid wings and flight similar to that of a butterfly. Bobs the head when wary.

Food

Diet includes small insects, worms, crustaceans and other creatures, including shrimps, marine snails, beetles, spiders and small fish.

Breeding

Nesting starts in April when the male scrapes out a nest, either in the open or in the cover of short vegetation. Female lays 3 or 4 eggs (which have effective camouflage patterns) which both adults incubate for 23-25 days. Hatchlings have a layer of down and are able to feed themselves; they can fly after about 24 days and are quickly independent. Pairs may have two or three broods in a season.

Population

Most of the region's birds are migrants, often from long distances; birds from Canada and Greenland pass the British Isles on their way to winter in West Africa, while May sees birds from West Africa moving through Britain on their way to Greenland, Iceland, or Canada. Many Scandinavian birds spend winter in Britain. Approximately 5500 pairs breed in the UK and 1000-2500 in Ireland; these figures are boosted to 36 000 during the winter in the UK, and around 14 500 in the Irish winter.

Observation Tips

Separable from the Little Ringed Plover because it's larger, but also because it has distinctive white wing-bars visible in flight, which the Little Ringed Plover lacks. When not breeding, these birds are primarily coastal so mudflats and estuaries are the best places in the region to observe the species at that time. Nesting birds should not be interrupted, but may be found on isolated beaches in the spring and summer.

Voice

Has a gentle 'tuu-eep' call, and a melodious 't'lew, t'lew, t'lew' when in display flight.
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