Winter plumage
  • Adult winter plumage
  • Adult winter plumage in flight. Note: black axillaries (underwing).
  • Winter plumage

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Black-bellied Plover

Pluvialis squatarola
This is a large and highly varied group of birds that do not have many outward similarities. Most are water birds that feed on invertebrates or small aquatic creatures. The order is well represented in Washington, with seven families:
Plovers are small to medium-sized shorebirds with round heads, short bills, large eyes, and short necks. They live on the ground in open habitats, mostly near water. They build a simple scrape nest on the ground, in which they lay 3–4 eggs. Both parents incubate and care for the young, although newly hatched chicks walk and feed themselves soon after hatching. Plovers eat small invertebrates, and their foraging style is what sets them apart from other shorebirds. Plovers are visual feeders: while foraging, they run, pause, eat, run, and pause repeatedly. This upright style contrasts with that of sandpipers, which are most often seen head down, probing for underground prey. Plovers also typically do not nest as far to the north as most sandpipers and do not migrate as far.
Common winter west. Uncommon migrant east.

    General Description

    The Black-bellied Plover is Washington's largest plover. The breeding adult male is solid black from chin to belly. The upperparts are white or white mottled with black. The female is more brownish than black. Juveniles and birds in non-breeding plumage are speckled gray-brown above with a gray-brown breast and white belly. A white rump is visible in all plumages. The breast and sides are heavily streaked in the juvenile. In flight, black axillaries contrast with white under-wing coverts.


    Black-bellied Plovers winter on sandy beaches and estuarine mud flats around the world. They are also found in wet, plowed fields and grassy meadows near the coast and on inland marine waters. They nest on dry arctic tundra.


    Black-bellied Plovers often roost and fly in flocks, but spread out when foraging. In winter, they commonly feed in association with Dunlin. Like other plovers, Black-bellied plovers are visual feeders, but they may also probe for hidden prey.


    On their wintering grounds, Black-bellied Plovers feed on polychaete worms, bivalves, and crustaceans. On their breeding grounds, they primarily eat insects.


    The Black-bellied Plover nests on dry tundra, often on a raised area with good visibility. The male begins a scrape nest, and the female lines it with pebbles and bits of vegetation. Females typically lay four eggs, and both parents incubate. The young may forage within 12 hours, but tend to stay in the nest longer than other shorebirds. Both parents care for the young and have one brood per season.

    Migration Status

    Although Black-bellied Plovers occur year round on the outer coast of Washington, they are especially common during migration (April to May and July to October) and in winter. Immatures of both sexes can be seen throughout the summer.

    Conservation Status

    Their arctic breeding habitat is at low risk of human occupation and development. Christmas Bird Counts indicate that regional wintering populations are increasing.

    When and Where to Find in Washington

    Black-bellied Plovers can be found year round on outer beaches such as Ocean
    Shores, Grays Harbor, and Leadbetter Point, but are less common in the summer, when only non-breeders remain. They are uncommon in Puget Sound. Juveniles regularly migrate through the interior, especially from late August to October.

    Abundance Code DefinitionsAbundance

    C=Common; F=Fairly Common; U=Uncommon; R=Rare; I=Irregular
    Pacific Northwest CoastCCCCCRUCCCCC
    Puget TroughFFFFURRCCFFF
    North Cascades
    West Cascades
    East Cascades
    Okanogan RR
    Canadian Rockies
    Blue Mountains
    Columbia Plateau R RUU

    Washington Range Map

    North American Range Map

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    Federal Endangered Species ListAudubon/American Bird Conservancy Watch ListState Endangered Species ListAudubon Washington Vulnerable Birds List

    View full list of Washington State's Species of Special Concern