The ringed plover is a small wader that is easily recognized by its broad black breast band. It breeds in the north-eastern parts of Canada, on Greenland, Iceland, in north-west Europe throughout Scandinavia, Svalbard and arctic regions from Russia to the Bering Sea. In the breeding season ringed plovers occur on plains with sand, gravel or sparse vegetation, usually near water.
The ringed plover is a small wader that is easily recognized by its broad black breast band. The sexes are similar in appearance.
Adult birds are about 19 cm long and weigh 55–75 g. They have a short orange-yellow bill that has a black tip and they have yellow legs. The back, crown and neck are brown and the wings have distinct white wing bars. The forehead is white and is limited by a black band which extends to the eye and around the crown. A black band extends from the root of the bill through the eye to the ear coverts. The underside of the bird is white except for a black breast band.
In winter plumage the breast band and the dark head markings are a paler brown.
Juvenile birds resemble adults in winter plumage, but are more mottled on the back and have an incomplete breast band.
The call is a characteristic, soft ‘dee-ip’, and in flight they emit a rapid warble.
The ringed plover breeds in the north-eastern parts of Canada, on Greenland, Iceland, in north-west Europe throughout Scandinavia, Svalbard and arctic regions from Russia to the Bering Sea. It is a migratory species that winters from the coast of western Europe to the tropical and southerly parts of Africa and the Middle East. The northernmost breeding populations over-winter furthest south.
In Svalbard, the ringed plover breeds primarily in western Spitsbergen and on Bjørnøya, though the species can be found over most of the archipelago. It has been found breeding as far north as Sjuøyane and they are quite common in Nordenskiöld Land.
Ringed plovers arrive in Svalbard toward the end of May or early in June; the autumn migration begins at the end of July and goes on through to the end of August. These birds often recur at the same localities in subsequent years.
In the breeding season ringed plovers occur on plains with sand, gravel or sparse vegetation, usually near water (salt or fresh). Outside the nesting season they occupy sandy or muddy shores, usually along sea coasts.
The species nests singly or in loose groups, and is relatively timid at the nesting site. If the nest or brood is approached ringed plovers spread out their tail, lift the wings and flap across the tundra, trailing one wing as if it were broken. The same behaviour is used to lead predators away from eggs and young. Disturbance by humans prior to egg-laying can result in a change of nest site. The pair is territorial on the breeding grounds and actively defends a fixed area.
Ringed plovers feed on small insects, crustaceans and other invertebrates. They have relatively large eyes, and their acute vision is important for catching prey (usually on the surface of the ground). Other small waders with longer bills usually stab into the substrate to get at prey and are hence more dependent on the sense of touch.
Life history and reproduction
Plovers nest on dry sand or gravel, creating a shallow depression that sometimes contains casually collected bits of pebbles, shells, straw or wood. The nest is built by the male, and the four pear-shaped eggs are olive-grey with brown and black speckles.
The eggs are incubated by both sexes for 23–25 days.
The newly-hatched young immediately leave the nest and are reared by both parents until they are fledged at about 24 days of age. They are sexually mature at the age of one year.
The highest age recorded in Norway (including Svalbard) is 14 years.
Management status and monitoring
The size of the breeding population of ringed plovers in Svalbard has been estimated to be between 300 and 600 pairs. However, no reliable census of the breeding population has been conducted.
The European breeding population is estimated to be 120,000 pairs and is thought to be stable.