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Ringed plover

Charadrius hiaticula

What am I?

The ringed plover is a small, dumpy, short-legged wading bird. It is brownish grey above and whitish below. It has an orange bill, tipped with black, orange legs and a black-and-white pattern on its head and breast. In flight, it shows a broad, white wing-stripe.

They breed on beaches around the coast, but they have also now begun breeding inland in sand and gravel pits and former industrial sites. Many UK birds live here all year round, but birds from Europe winter in Britain, and birds from Greenland and Canada pass through on migration.


How to spot them

Larger and chunkier than the little ringed plover, the ringed plover has an orange bill with a black tip, orange legs and no yellow ring around the eye. Sandy-brown above and white below, it has a black chest-band and black bridle markings on its head. When it flies, it displays a broad, white wingbar.

Summer breeding and winter migration

Ringed plovers are resident along our Essex coastline all year round with some pairs attempting to breed along our shingle shores: watch out for signs and fencing during breeding season to let you know a ringed plover is nesting nearby.

Larger numbers are seen over the colder months: in the UK overall, there are about four times as many of the species in the winter, compared with the summer.

You’ll see passage migrants in the autumn and spring as they travel through this country on their way to and from more northern breeding grounds on UK coastlines, Scandinavia, Netherlands and Belgium. Birds that breed in Norway have been tracked as migrating all the way to West Africa for the winter.

Ringed plover behaviours

You will often see ringed plovers scampering around on sandy or shingle beaches searching for food like flies, spiders, worms, crustaceans and molluscs.

Their excellent camouflage and small scale (about 20cm long) make them very difficult for us to spot, so take extra care to look out for these birds. Camouflage is vital for ringed plovers since they lay their eggs among the pebbles and shingle on an open beach: watch out for signs and fencing during nesting season to let you know to take extra care as a ringed plover is nearby.

When the parents sense a threat to their nest or chicks, like some other waders, they pretend to have a broken wing to lure potential predators away. ⠀

Conservation status

The ringed plover is red listed in the UK (Opens in a new window) .

Did you know?

Ringed plovers that nest as far away as Greenland and Canada fly through the UK on migration.