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New Jersey Endangered and Threatened Species Field Guide

Image of A black-bellied plover.Zoom+ A black-bellied plover. © Jan van de Kam

Black-bellied plover

Pluvialis squatarola

Species Group: Bird

Conservation Status

State: Other Classification



A large plover (about 12” in length). The back is black with white flecks in all plumages. The head is larger and the bill longer than other plovers. In the summer, the crown is whitish, with black extending from the face down to the belly. In winter, black-bellied plovers are grayish overall and darker above than below, with a faint eyebrow. Juveniles in fall look quite similar to winter adults, but the wings and back are darker and the spots are whitish-yellow; the underparts have thin brownish streaks. Black-bellied plovers can be distinguished from similar species by their larger head, longer bill, and black armpits. Additionally, they are the only American plover with a hind toe on their foot; however, it is quite small and usually difficult to see in the field.

Image of Range of the black-bellied plover in New Jersey.Zoom+ Range of the black-bellied plover in New Jersey.


The black-bellied plover is one of the most wide-ranging shorebirds and can be found nearly world-wide. Its large size allows it to consume a wider range of prey and aids in regulation of body temperature, making this bird equally at home in its northern Arctic breeding grounds and in both temperate and tropical climates during the winter. The North American population breeds across Canada and Alaska, and some individuals regularly spend winters as far north as Massachusetts and British Columbia, though more typical wintering areas are the Gulf Coast and South America.

The black-bellied plover is commonly found on coasts, typically on open mudflats and beaches, as well as nearby fields. Though normally found in these coastal areas, it will also feed on inland plains and freshwater habitats, especially during migration. During breeding season, it favors drier Arctic tundra with abundant lichens, lower shrubs, and other vegetation such as herbs.


The black-bellied plover consumes marine worms, insects, crustaceans and mollusks during its migration and during winter. Hunting by sight, these birds will stand upright, looking for prey, before running quickly to another spot, and so on. This manner, common among plovers, is distinct from the feeding style employed by similarly-sized shorebirds such as red knots and other larger sandpipers and can aid in identification.

Like most shorebirds, on the breeding grounds the black-bellied plover’s typical diet shifts to a more insect-based diet. This will consist of other grasshoppers and invertebrates, but it will also supplement this diet with earthworms and even seeds depending on the availability of prey.


The nest of the black-bellied plover is usually little more than a small scraped-out depression on the ground, lined with lichens or mosses. The female typically lays four pale-greenish eggs, which hatch after about four weeks of incubation. Both adults remain to incubate the eggs and then care for the young. The chicks typically fledge around a month after hatching.

Black-bellied plovers will frequently fly and roost in flocks, often mixed with other shorebirds. However, while feeding, they tend to scatter widely, even from other shorebirds, and can often be seen completely alone.


Thanks to its worldwide and adaptability, the black-bellied plover is not considered threatened by any major conservation authority. Additionally, black-bellied plovers have excellent eyesight and a wary disposition, characteristics that not only helped them resist hunting pressures in the past but have also made them excellent sentinels for the mixed shorebird flocks they commonly associate with.

This said, some of the common pressures on shorebirds worldwide will likely have some future effect on the black-bellied plover. Habitat destruction and fragmentation due to continued coastal development, as well as contamination (particularly in the Midwestern flyway) are a concern, and continued climate change is likely to alter their breeding habitat in the Arctic in as-yet unknown ways. While not currently considered at risk, careful monitoring is necessary to prevent the black-bellied plover from the declines seen in many other shorebird species.

Text written by Matt Danihel in 2013.


  • Message, Stephen, and Don Taylor. Shorebirds of North America, Europe, and Asia: A Guide to Field Identification. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005.
  • Paulson, Dennis R. "Black-Bellied Plover (Pluvialis squatarola)". Ithaca, NY, 1995. The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.).Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Accessed: July 30, 2013. Available at:>.
  • Sibley, David Allen. The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003.
  • Stokes, Donald, and Lillian Stokes. Field Guide to Birds: Eastern Region. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company, 1996.

Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Animalia
    Phylum: Chordata
       Class: Aves
          Order: Charadriiformes
             Family: Charadriidae
                Genus: Pluvialis
                   Species: P. squatarola

Find Related Info: Shorebirds

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