Plovers of Pennsylvania (5 Species to Know)

Plovers are a type of shorebird characterized by their round appearance and often look plump. They can be found near water or in open fields. While they are a sub-group of shorebirds, there are many species of plovers in the United States. In this post, you will be able to see all of the expected plovers in Pennsylvania.

American Golden-plover

American golden-plover in breeding plumage (Peter Pearsall Photo)
American Golden-plover in nonbreeding plumage (Alan Schmierer Photo)

The American Golden-plover is quite an impressive looking bird when in breeding plumage. They have a black underside, beautiful golden feathers on the back and wings, and a white marking that goes all the way from the bill to the shoulder. In nonbreeding plumage, American Golden-plovers are buffy colored with gold and brown speckled wings, back, and head. During certain times of the year these birds will be half way between breeding and nonbreeding plumage as they transition.


Like many shorebird species, American Golden-plovers are long distance migrants. They winter in Southeastern South America and fly all the way to their breeding areas in Alaska and the northern most parts of Canada.

Diet and Foraging Habits

American Golden-plovers feed mostly on invertebrates including insect larva and worms. They have also been known to eat some plant-based foods as well, including berries. This species hunts by running along the ground, periodically stopping to scan for food.

Where to Find this Bird

American Golden-plovers are most often found in the continental United States during fall migration. Some common places to find them are in agricultural fields, along lake shores, and at sod farms.

Black-bellied Plover

Black-bellied Plover in breeding plumage (under the same moon Photo CC by 2.0)
Black-bellied Plover in nonbreeding plumage (Susan Young Photo)


Black-bellied Plovers are large as far as plovers go, similar in size to American Golden-plovers, but a little more stocky. They have black on their face, chest, and underside, but unlike American Golden-plovers they have a white under tail. They have white mottling on their back and wings as well as a white head and white stripe from the bill down to the shoulders.

In nonbreeding plumage, Black-bellied Plovers are much more sandy colored with darker shades on the wings, back, and head. In both breeding and nonbreeding plumage, this species shows black patches under the wing, visible in flight.


The Black-bellied Plover is extremely widespread across the globe with numerous sightings in every continent except for Antarctica. In North America, they summer in the most Northern parts of Canada and migrate south to the coasts of both the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean. During migration, they can be found inland on an annual basis.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Black-bellied Plovers eat a wide variety of invertebrates including insects, worms, urchins, crabs and much more. They will forage in farm fields and on mud flats in both fresh and salt water.

Where to Find this Bird

The best time to find Black-bellied Plovers is during winter and during fall migration. In winter, both the Atlantic and the Pacific coasts of the United States play host to the species. Look for them on beaches, mudflats, and break walls where they will be sitting on large rocks. During migration, sod farms, agricultural fields, and the shores of inland lakes are good places to search for Black-bellied Plovers.


Killdeer (Tom Koerner Photo)

The Killdeer is a widespread and recognizable bird in the plover family. They have a brown head, back, and wings, with a white underside. They have several black markings on their chest and head with two bands on their chest and two on the head with one of the stripes on the forehead and another looking something like a mustache. They have a rusty colored tail and a noticeable red eye.


Killdeer do not migrate as far as other plover species, and many of them live in the United States and parts of Western South America year round. The Killdeer that do migrate, go from Northern South America, Central America, and Southern Mexico, into the United States, and end up breeding in either the U.S. or Southern Canada.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Killdeer run along the ground as they forage for food. They consume mostly invertebrates such as grasshoppers, worms, snails, and insect larva. They will forage both near water as well as in drier open areas.

Where to Find this Bird

Killdeer are common throughout most of the United States in the summer and are one of the first birds to return north in spring. Look for them in open areas with a lot of flat land such as athletic fields, sod farms, plowed fields, and even gravel lots. Listen for their “kill-deer” call as the walk around or fly over.

Other Notes: Killdeer are known for doing a broken wing display to distract predators and eventually lead them away from their nests. This behavior can be seen often during the nesting season.

Piping Plover (Rare)

Piping Plover in breeding plumage (Derek Sallmann Photo)
Piping Plover in nonbreeding plumage (Ryan Sallmann Photo)

Piping Plovers are relatively small plovers with a brownish gray back and head, with a white underside, and white stripe over the eye. In breeding plumage, this species has black on the forehead and black around the neck. Nonbreeding adults and immature birds lack these black markings.


Piping Plovers winter on the Southern Atlantic Coast as well as the Gulf Coast. In spring they move north to their breeding areas in the North-central United States, South-central Canada, the Northeastern United States, and some of the Great Lakes states.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Piping Plovers forage near the edge of the water searching for small invertebrates. They will forage in both marine and freshwater environments.

Where to Find this Bird

Piping Plovers breed in areas with sandy beaches and sparse vegetation. They show up along lake shores, ocean coastlines, and even rivers during migration.

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover in breeding plumage (Ryan Sallmann Photo)
Semipalmated Plover in nonbreeding plumage (Ryan Sallmann photo)

Semipalmated Plovers are on the small side for shorebirds and have a brown back and wings, and a white underside. In breeding plumage they have a black band on their upper chest as well as a black mask. In nonbreeding plumage, the black on this species is much less visible or gone altogether.


Semipalmated Plovers breed in the arctic and make their way south in fall. They winter along the ocean coasts of the United States, Mexico, and South America. They move through most regions of the United States in fall.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Semipalmated Plovers feed near the waters edge and occasionally wade in to very shallow water. They eat mostly aquatic invertebrates including worms and small crustaceans.

Where to Find this Bird

For people who live on the ocean coastlines, look for Semipalmated Plovers on beaches and mudflats in winter. For those that live in the interior of the country, the best time to see this species is during fall migration where they can be fund on inland lakes and sandbars.


Plovers are a fascinating and cute looking group of shorebirds that are certainly worth knowing more about. Getting acquainted with these five species can make it much easier to know what to expect in the field.

If you enjoyed this post, please give it a like and a comment. Also be sure to check out the Badgerland Birding Youtube Channel.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s