When shorebird season arrives, one group you should keep your eyes open for, no matter where on Earth you call home (unless for some inexplicable reason you live in Antarctica) are plovers.

Plovers are relatively small shorebirds, compact but gracefully tapered, somewhat reminiscent of teardrops with bird legs. Sixty-six members of the Family Charadriidae are distributed worldwide, from equatorial regions to the arctic, from sandy beaches to open prairies. As one might expect of shorebirds, plovers are often found near water, be it salt, fresh, or brackish. However, the impressive diversity of this family coupled with the fact that many are migratory ensure that a plover might turn up just about anywhere.

Juvenile Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus) by Corey Finger

Plovers can usually be distinguished from other types of shorebirds by their short, thick bills, though large eyes and short necks also differentiate many of them from their kin in Order Charadriiformes. Further field marks tend to be distributed by genus. Though there are about ten accepted genera of plover, give or take, most cluster in one of three tribes:

Charadrius or Ringed Plovers

Charadrius species, the largest genus, are known as the ringed plovers because most of them are marked by breast bands. While most ringed plovers, like Wilson’s and Semipalmated in North America, bear a single band be it full or faint, partial or complete, others display two, like the Killdeer, or even three.

Killdeer with hatchlings by Corey Finger (See more Killfawns… baby Killdeer!)


Vanellus plovers are called lapwings. These birds, typical everywhere but North America, usually bear distinctive black markings on their wings and tails, but are more readily recognized by fetching crests, wattles, and/or spurs.

Southern Lapwing by Mike Bergin

Andean Lapwing
(V. resplendens) by Corey Finger

Critically endangered Sociable Lapwings (V. gregarius) by Corey Finger

Pluvialis or Golden Plovers

Pluvialis plovers represent the various golden plovers. While most of these birds acquire a lustrous tawny coat in breeding plumage, even more striking is their dark, dramatic mien as they turn black through their face and breast down through the belly.

Black-bellied Plover in New York by Corey Finger

Dotterels and oddball plovers

Most plovers outside of these genera are called dotterels, thought the distinctive Wrybill and mystifying Magellanic Plover also make up their own groups.

Hooded Dotterel by Mike Freiberg

Now that you know what a plover is, learn about the raging controversy surrounding plover pronunciation.

Masked Lapwing
Masked Lapwing (V. miles) by Redgannet

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.