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Pacific Golden-Plover

MARC number#LocationCountyArrival dateDeparture dateObserversReport
2002-101Salt Pannes–Plum IslandEssex4/21/025/5/02R. Heil et al.7
2013-0131Plymouth Beach, PlymouthPlymouth7/20/137/20/13ph. I. Davies, ph. M. Iliff*, ph. L. Seitz*, au. T. Spahr*, ph. v. J. Trimble*18

The Pacific Golden-Plover is a highly migratory member of the genus Pluvialis, which includes the Black-belled, American Golden, and European Golden-Plovers. It nests in the arctic or near arctic, mainly far northeastern Siberia and across the Berring Strait into northwestern Alaska. While some birds winter along Asian coastlines after a short journey, many birds nesting in Alaska make the long overwater flight for the islands of the western Pacific including Australia and New Zealand. Some, particularly first-year birds, winter in the Hawaiian Islands, where it is known as the kolea. Juvenile Pacific Golden-Plovers also migrate through, and overwinter, in California in small numbers. It is prone to great wanderings outside of normal migration, with birds turning up along coastlines all over the world in such locations as Iceland, Newfoundland, Bermuda and even Nicaragua.

Once considered the same species as the American Golden-Plover (they were collectively known as the Lesser Golden-Plover), separation of non-alternate plumaged birds of these species can present a serious identification challenge.

Fig 1. Pacific Golden-Plover with Sanderlings and Semipalmated Sandpipers.
Plymouth Beach, July 20, 2013. (ph. M. Iliff)

WHERE TO LOOK IN MASSACHUSETTS: As it often prefers beaches and mudflats over grassy areas, any immediate coastline with a beach in Massachusetts might hold the state’s next Pacific Golden-Plover. Best bets would be areas where large numbers of shorebirds gather, such as South Beach, Sandy Point State Beach Reservation, Duxbury Beach, Plymouth Beach, Norton Point or Long Point on Martha’s Vineyard, or any of the popular shorebird gatherings on Nantucket. Large grassy areas with collections of other plover species such as the Plum Island and even Provincetown Airports should also be scanned.

STATUS IN THE EAST: Apparently six previous records, including the two listed above from Massachusetts. Others include:

One adult female, collected, Scarborough, Maine, 11 Sep 1911
One, Johnson Sod Farm, New Jersey, 4-16 Sep 2001
One, Mecox Bay, NY, 1 Sep 2003
One from Bombay Hook NWR, July 1990

IDENTIFICATION NOTES: Separation of the 3 Golden-Plover species can be a difficult identification challenge, especially for birds in basic or first basic plumage. Structurally, Pacific Golden-Plovers are taller, longer-legged (with a longer tibia) and larger-billed than either the American Golden-Plover or European Golden-Plover. Pacific will generally show longer tertials and a shorter primary projection than American. Pacific also shows only 3 primaries past the tertials, although seeing this feature will require good views through a scope in most circumstances. When standing, Pacific Golden-Plovers generally appear to have a more upright and elegant posture than American Golden-Plovers. In flight, American and Pacific can be separated easily from European by gray wing linings; European have white wing linings. In alternate plumage, Pacific can be separated from European by the even-width white side stripe; from American by the white undertail coverts and the side stripe running the length of the flanks. Juvenile birds can be extremely tricky, with Pacific generally being paler than American. The white stripe above the eye of juveniles will be brightest directly above the eye for Pacific and behind the eye for American. For many juvenile and basic-plumaged adults, one must rely on the structural features described above.

Voice is perhaps the most useful feature in separating Pacific and American, and thankfully the birds call frequently in flight. The call of the Pacific is described in O’Brien, Crossley and Karlson as “Semipalmated Plover-like ku–EEid; lower pitched than American” (pp 43). American calls are generally shorter, higher pitched and more “urgent” or “pleading” in nature. Of note the Plymouth bird gave shorter versions of the standard call, including some calls that were quite similar to that of the Semipalmated Plover.