American golden plovers are amazing birds. They really are.

Last October, when I featured the black-bellied plover, I mentioned that in the spring, I would feature this week’s bird.

The reason being is, whereas the black-bellied plover migrates through Oklahoma in spring and fall, the American golden plover pretty much only migrates through this area during the spring.

The American golden plover has a circular migration pattern. In the spring, it migrates through the center of the United States. In the fall, it generally migrates off the Atlantic Coast.

And, their migration is one of the things that make these birds so special. They are truly some of the greatest travelers in the bird world.

Each year, they travel from their breeding grounds on the Arctic tundra to their wintering grounds in southern Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, then back to the tundra.

That’s about 25,000 miles each year!

Habitat

I’m starting with habitat because, although the American golden plover passes through the Ada area, you’re not going to see it just anywhere. Although it wouldn’t be impossible to see one in your backyard, it’s highly improbable.

AGPs are shorebirds. However, they can also be seen away from water, but they prefer wide-open spaces. Those spaces include agriculture fields which have recently been tilled or have short grass or stubble.

And, they may visit ponds, but the ponds would need to have some mudflats or be surrounded by very short grass — free of brush and trees where predators can hide. These birds also visit beaches, golf courses and airports.

Description

American golden plovers get their name due to their breeding plumage. When breeding, their backs are mottled gold and black. The front of the male is very black — belly, breast, neck and face. The female also has black, but it is somewhat faded and incomplete.

When they migrate through Oklahoma early, like right now, AGPs are a mottled grayish-brown on their backs and tops of their heads. Their bellies are a mixture of light beige and white.

Later migrants may have black splotches on their fronts and some gold on their backs as they are transitioning to breeding plumage.

AGPs are slightly smaller than black-bellied plovers and have smaller, thinner beaks.

American golden plovers have conspicuous white “eyebrows” (see photo).

The AGP is related to a “shorebird” that is a permanent resident in the Ada area, called a killdeer. You’ve most likely seen killdeer in shortgrass fields and area parking lots. The killdeer is also a plover.

Another bird you may see in your fields in the coming weeks is the upland sandpiper. However, it is larger than the AGP, with a much longer bill. I am planning to feature it soon.

Food

AGPs eat a variety of invertebrates, along with some seeds, leaves and berries.

I was recently watching some plovers hunt for food in muddy and flooded tilled fields. Like BBPs, the AGPs would run a little bit, then stop to grab up earthworms. Also, like the BBPs, the AGPs would pull the worms from the ground, then walk over to water and “wash” the mud off the worms before consuming them.

Range

As I mentioned previously, AGPs breed in the Arctic tundra in Alaska and northern Canada, eh. At their wintering grounds, their habitat is grazed grasslands, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

When returning to its nesting grounds in the spring, they pass primarily through the middle of North America, including Oklahoma.

Odds and ends

• According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the oldest known AGP was at least 13 years old when it was recaptured and re-released during a banding operation. Can you imagine how many miles that bird must have traveled in its lifetime? Hundreds of thousands!

• The Lab reports that market hunting in the 19th and early 20th centuries caused a major decline in the population of AGPs. However, the bird’s population has rebounded since hunting was stopped, but not to historic numbers.

Randy Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. He has been an avid birdwatcher, nature enthusiast and photographer for 40 years. Reach him at rnw@usa.com.