(The alternate title for this post is “The Plover Pronunciation Poll Revisited.”)
Often, the answer to one question leads to several more questions. Once a nascent naturalist answers the question as to what exactly a plover is, the very next one is just how to pronounce the confounded bird’s name.

Pluhv-er or ploh-ver… all I can tell you is the jury is still out on this one.

The question of whether the word ‘plover’ is spoken with a short or a long ‘O’ reminds me of a trip Sara and I took three years ago to the Connecticut Audubon Coastal Center, as fine a place to spy charadriids as one could want. Extremely new to the avocation of avian observation, we had no business trying to identify shorebirds, even in August. We were fortunate that the Audubon Center attracted enough skilled practitioners willing to do the heavy lifting for us. Two of the most interesting birders seemed to be related, but their exact connection was unclear. I imagined that the pair was a teenaged boy, perhaps 15 or so, spending time with his favorite aunt. The two, this older woman possessed of a cosmopolitan air and a British accent birding with a young man, superficially awkward yet emboldened by his companion’s respect, obviously had a deep affection for one another. That’s what made their banter so memorable.

In the midst of putting names to the barely distinguishable shorebird faces in the teeming mass below, they picked out Black-bellied and Semipalmated Plovers. The youth pegged these birds as plovers with a long ‘O’, which prompted his companion to teasingly dissent.

“Do you call your lover your ‘loh-ver’?”

In response, he asked, “Do you visit the White Cliffs of ‘Duh-ver’?”

Back and forth they quipped but never achieved consensus. The two might have gotten us on some of our first plovers, but when it came to vocalizing the names of our new birds, they were of little help. In this, they are hardly alone, as even dictionaries acknowledge both pronunciations without favor.

I tend towards the short ‘O’ rhyming with ‘lover’. I’ve wondered, though, if this is the norm, either here in the U.S. or internationally. To that end, I invited my readers, an educated and savvy lot, to weigh in on this important matter by taking my Plover Pronunciation Poll. The results of this August 2006 survey were intriguing:

So out of 80 respondents, most of them likely to be better acquainted with the average man on the street, the slim majority selected pluhv-er over ploh-ver. More fascinating than the results were the comments:

Tom Andersen of Sphere has conducted his own research into this issue. Unfortunately, his inquiries were a response to those callous individuals who would rather see a bird species extirpated than give up the right to sprawl and drive all over the beach:

Suffice it to say that those who would prefer not to see piping plovers on the beach have their preferences. Some sing a song, to Paul Simon’s tune, called ’50 Ways to Kill a Plover,’ and others sing one called ‘I’m Driving Over a Piping Plover,’ to the tune of ‘I’m Looking Over a Four-Leaf Clover.’ If the piping plover haters ever come to an agreement on pronunciation, we bird lovers should adopt the other one.

Robin Andrea of Dharma Bums feels the same:

I was listening to Ed Schultz on Air America yesterday. He had just returned from a visit to a Virginia beach, where he had been informed that there were places he couldn’t walk because it was protected plover habitat. Yikes. You should have heard him go off about that. What is it about protecting birds that puts people in such a bad mood? It’s not like humans don’t have a zillion other beaches to walk as far as they’d like.

I pronounce it plover, it rhymes with lover, but I’m willing to change it once the haters have adopted their pronunciation.

Deb of Sand Creek Almanac tried to move the poll into another direction entirely:

Over. Over. Not Uhver.

Now that that’s settled, can we get onto whether you pronounce a certain large woodpecker “Pill-eeated” or “Pile-eeated”? I tend towards the former.

Carel of Rigor Vitae did the same:

A friend and I who had always said “cawra-cawra” were surprised to hear Roger Tory Peterson say “Caira-caira.” After discussing which was proper, we settled on “cahra-caira.”

Janet, the keeper of the Plover Warden Diaries, shared some welcome information:

As far as regional differences go, my brother and I have noticed that it’s pluhver on Plum Island and plohver across the Merrimack River in Salisbury. We find this odd because usually the Merrimack Valley is consistent in its deviations from English pronunciation and vocabulary. And, in the Merrimack Valley at least, the pronunciation doesn’t breakdown along plover-lover/plover-hater lines. About equal numbers of both camps prefer pluhver.

Two of my favorite Canadian bloggers, Pamela of Thomasburg Walks and Clare of The House and Other Arctic Musings, both support ploh-ver, as does Patrick of The Hawk-Owl’s Nest, who first said, “I’m a “Plover” as in “Lover” guy, but I think it’s improper. It just sounds less snooty.” and then corrected himself with, “Oops, I meant to say that I’m a “Plover” as in “Clover” guy because it sounds less snooty.” The way I see it, the ability to differentiate plovers from other shorebirds might seem snooty enough to some people.

Greg of Enchilada’s Blog is in the pluhv-er camp, as is Charlie of Charlie’s Bird Blog, who added:

This side of the pond people would think you very strange if you said “Ploh-ver”. But then again, this side of the pond we think everyone else is strange anyway…

Gav, who apparently doesn’t have a nature blog (how odd), added the following in support of pluhv-er:

Many years ago – before we were married – my wife was learning Gurney’s setting of Gibson’s poem “All night under the moon, plovers were flying … ” for a recital of English song. “What’s a plohver?” she asked. “What? Oh, a pluhver. A kind of bird, you know, a lapwing” “That’s not right. I’m not singing a schwa vowel there.” So that was that.

The poll may be over, but your opportunity to add your two cents to the raging debate remains…

Written by Mike
Mike is a leading authority in the field of standardized test preparation, but he's also a traveler who fully expects to see every bird in the world. Besides founding 10,000 Birds in 2003, Mike has also created a number of other entertaining but now extirpated nature blog resources, particularly the Nature Blog Network and I and the Bird.