Birds – American Golden Plover

(Charadrius dominicus)


Length—10.50 inches.

Male and Female—In summer: Mottled upper parts black, greenish, golden yellow, and a little white, the yellow in excess; tail brownish gray indistinctly barred with whitish; sides of breast white; other under parts and sides of head black; under wing coverts ashy gray. Bill and feet black. In winter: Upper parts and tail dusky, spotted or barred with yellow or whitish, the colors not so pure as in summer; under parts grayish white, purest on chin and abdomen; the throat and sides of head streaked ; the breast and sides of neck and body mottled with dusky grayish brown ; legs dusky. Immature birds resemble winter adults; also like black-breasted plovers; but the grayish axillars and the lack of a fourth toe sufficiently distinguish this species from the pre-ceding, however variable the plumage may be at different seasons.

Range—North America at large; nests in Arctic regions; winters from Florida to Patagonia.

Season—Spring and autumn migrant; May; August to November.

Golden grain, golden rod, golden maple leaves, and golden plover all come together; the birds not so yellow, it is true, as they were in the spring, when they gave us only a passing glimpse of their clearer, more intense speckled plumage, but still yellow enough to be in harmony with nature’s autumnal color scheme. Indeed, they blend so well with their surroundings as to be all but invisible. Usually the under parts of birds are light colored to help make them inconspicuous on the wing; but the black markings on this and the preceding plovers are notable exceptions. High above the corn and buckwheat, the stubble, the burned and ploughed fields of the interior, or the level stretches of grass far back of the beaches, the sandy dunes, and flats bared at low tide along the coast, come the plovers in crescent-shaped flocks, now massed, now scattered, now rising, now dipping, the wings tremulous with speed, and swinging round in a circle at sight of a feeding ground to their liking. With soft, trilled mellow whistles rippling from their throats, the birds drift down-ward on set, decurved wings, and skim low before alighting. For an instant, as their dangling legs touch the ground, they raise their wings high above their backs until they meet, then slowly fold them against their sides. Now they scatter, and running nimbly and gracefully hither and thither, check themselves suddenly from time to time, raise their heads and look about to reconnoitre. Every motion is quick; they strike at a particle of food as if about to take a dive loon fashion, then run lightly on again, soon returning to the same spot if driven off. A hasty run must be taken, even when frightened, before the plovers spring into the air. A flock has a curious way of standing stock still at an alarming noise, before starting to run. When they squat and hide behind tufts of beach grass, it takes sharp eyes to detect birds from sand.

But even without apparent alarm, the scattered birds often rise as if summoned by some invisible and inaudible captain, and fly close along the ground, wheeling and dashing and skimming in beautiful and intricate evolutions. Such a flock offers all too easy a side shot. In “the good old days” of carnage that are responsible for the scarcity of this fine game bird to-day, it often rained plover when the gunners were abroad. This latter phrase suggests the query: What connection of ideas is there between pluvia (rain) and plover derived from that word? An early French writer, Belon 0555), speaking of the European species, of course, says “Pour ce qu’on le prend mieux en temps plurieux qu’en nulle autre saison ; ” but with us the birds are, if any-thing, wilder and less approachable in rainy weather than when it is fine. Is it that their backs look as if they had been sprinkled with rain drops ; or that they whistle more before storms, as their German name (Regempfeifer) would imply; or that the east wind that brings rain, blows flocks of these migrants in from sea ?

Golden plovers, once so plentiful and confiding that they came near enough to the plough for the farmer’s boy to strike and kill with his whip, were sold in the Chicago streets for fifty cents a hundred within the memory of many, and those not the oldest inhabitants. Dead birds propped up with sticks when the wooden decoys from city shops were not available ; a dried pea rattling about in a hollow reed to imitate the mellow coodle, coodle, coodle of the plover’s melodious call, allured the birds within easy range of every farm hand’s antediluvian musket.

Plovers’ visits depend much on weather, a clear, fine day inviting a long, unbroken flight far out at sea during the autumn migration ; whereas lowering weather, especially an easterly storm, drives the birds to the coast, where, flying low, a warm reception of hot shot usually awaits them from behind blinds. Grassy level stretches and pasture lands back of the beaches, rather than sandy places, attract them, since land insects, grass-hoppers particularly, and worms are what they are ever seeking. In the autumn migration, at least, the great majority of plovers follow the coast, sometimes closely, sometimes far at sea, so far that many flocks on their way to South America pass to the east of Bermuda. Long, perfect wings and light bodies enable them to cover immense distances without resting. While no fixed route appears to be followed in spring, possibly the birds show a preference then for the freshly-ploughed inland fields where food, winged, crawling, and in the larval state, abounds.

Among all the gaily dressed, tuneful lovers that visit us in May, few are handsomer and more charming in voice and manner than this melodious whistler. Further north he breaks into a long serenade, sung chiefly in the short Arctic night : tee-lee-lee, tu-lee-lee wit, wit wit, wee-u-wit, chee-lee-u-too-lee-ee, as described by Wilson, who followed these plovers to Behring Sea until he found their nest, that so few know. A depression among the grass or moss, lined with fine grasses and dried leaves, usually cradles four yellowish eggs covered over with dark red-dish brown spots ; but in the eggs, as in the plumage of the plovers, there is great variation. Birds that lay pointed eggs, as plovers do, arrange the narrow ends toward the centre of the nest that they may be the better covered ; and rumor says these emancipated females leave all the incubating to the males.