Charadrius hiaticula (Linnaeus, 1758)
Family: Charadriiformes > Charadriidae
This smart, small wader can be found around most of our coast, though is less commonly encountered in the south-west of England and western Wales.
Inland breeding also occurs, with pairs favouring disused gravel bits, river margins and, in Ireland, harvested peat bogs. Flooded gravel pits provide ideal breeding habitat for this beach denizen. On beaches, however, the story is less rosy, with disturbance from increasing visitor numbers reducing breeding success.
Adult Ringed Plover are distinctive with their black ‘bandit’ eye-masks and orange legs. When nesting, individuals will feign a broken-wing to draw predators away from the chicks. The chicks are perfectly camouflaged against their sandy substrate, so will sit and ‘hide’ if they can as they are near impossible to spot.
Select a topic for more facts and statistics about the Ringed Plover
Ringed Plover identification is sometimes difficult. The following article may help when identifying Ringed Plover.
A handsome little wader, with dapper plumage, runs along in front of you, pausing to daintily pick up morsels of food as it goes. Is this a Ringed Plover, or its less common summer-visiting cousin the Little Ringed Plover? This video workshop will guide you towards the most important differences between these two similar species to enable you to confidently tell them apart.
Listen to example recordings of the main vocalisations of Ringed Plover, provided by xeno-canto contributors.
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Status and Trends
Population size and trends and patterns of distribution based on BTO surveys and atlases with data collected by BTO volunteers.
This species can be found on the following statutory and conservation listings and schedules.
The breeding population is monitored at intervals by special surveys. A BTO survey in 1984 showed increases throughout the UK since the previous survey in 1973-74 (Prater 1989). The spread of the breeding distribution inland between the first two atlas periods, especially in England, was probably associated with the increase in number of gravel pits and reservoirs (Gibbons et al. 1993). Surveys in England and Wales revealed an increase of 12% in breeding birds in wet meadows between 1982 and 2002 (Wilson et al. 2005). The BTO's repeat national survey in 2007 found an overall decrease in UK population of around 37% since 1984, with the greatest decreases in inland areas (Burton & Conway 2008, Conway et al. 2019).
Wintering numbers have been in decline since the late 1980s, although they have remained stable since around 2010/11 (WeBS: Frost et al. 2020). Through these winter declines, the species moved from amber to being red listed in the latest review (Eaton et al. 2015).
|UK winter population||-52% decrease (1995/96 to 2020/21)|
Wintering Ringed Plovers are widely distributed round the coasts of the UK, with small numbers recorded inland, mainly across northern and eastern England and some may be early returning breeders. The breeding distribution is mainly coastal, with significant gaps only in southwest England, Yorkshire, and southwest Wales. Inland breeding occurs in a range of mainly wetland habitats including along rivers, by lochsides and gravel pits.
Occupied 10-km squares in UK
|No. occupied in breeding season||1000|
|% occupied in breeding season||33|
|No. occupied in winter||865|
|% occupied in winter||29|
European Distribution Map
There has been a 23% range contraction in Ireland and a 5% expansion in Britain since the 1968–72 Breeding Atlas.
Change in occupied 10-km squares in the UK
|% change in range in breeding season (1968–72 to 2008–11)||+3.5%|
|% change in range in winter (1981–84 to 2007–11)||+1.5%|
Ringed Plovers are recorded year-round though with peaks associated with migration of northern breeding populations.
Information about movement and migration based on online bird portals (e.g. BirdTrack), Ringing schemes and tracking studies.
Lifecycle and body size information about Ringed Plover, including statistics on nesting, eggs and lifespan based on BTO ringing and nest recording data.
|First Clutches Laid||14 May (21 Apr–28 Jun)|
|Number of Broods||2 (3)|
|Egg Size||35×26 mm Weight = 11.5 g (of which 6% is shell)|
|Clutch Size||4 eggs | 3.72 ± 0.55 (2–5) N=2989|
View number ringed each year in the Online Ringing Report
|Maximum Age from Ringing||21 years 11 months 12 days (set in 2015)|
|Typical Lifespan||5 years with breeding typically at 1 year|
|Wing Length||Adults||135.2±4.2 | Range 129–142mm, N=2407|
|Juveniles||132.5±4.2 | Range 126-139mm, N=1008|
|Males||135.8±4 | Range 129–142mm, N=835|
|Females||135.7±4.2 | Range 129–143mm, N=561|
|Body Weight||Adults||67.7±8.26 | Range 54.0–82.0g, N=2351|
|Juveniles||63.5±8.6133 | Range 48.6–77.0g, N=987|
|Males||68.7±8.75 | Range 54.0–83.0g, N=811|
|Females||67.5±8.77 | Range 53.0–82.0g, N=541|
Feather measurements and photos on featherbase
|Field Codes||2-letter: RP | 5-letter code: RINPL | Euring: 4700|
For information in another language (where available) click on a linked name
Interpretation and scientific publications about Ringed Plover from BTO scientists.
Causes of change
The main drivers of change for Ringed Plover are uncertain; however increases in disturbance and predation may have contributed to the observed marked increase in nest failures at the egg stage.
Further information on causes of change
The 1984 survey revealed that over 25% of the UK population nested on the Western Isles, especially on the machair, but breeding waders there have subsequently suffered greatly from predation by introduced hedgehogs (Jackson et al. 2004) - a problem that appears increasingly severe (Jackson 2007). There was a marked decline in breeding numbers of Ringed Plovers in the Uists between 1983 and 2014, evident in areas both with and without hedgehogs (Calladine et al. 2015). Soil fertility also appears to be an issue: for the most important populations on the Uist machair in areas without hedgehogs, declines were associated with reduced soil fertility (Calladine et al. 2014b) and also lower calcium carbonate concentrations in dune systems (Fuller 2018)
Ringed Plovers that choose beaches for nesting are especially vulnerable to disturbance, however, and already in 1984 were largely confined in some regions to wardened reserves (Prater 1989). Human usage of beach areas severely restricts the availability of this habitat to nesting plovers (Liley & Sutherland 2007). There has been a marked increase in nest failures at the egg stage.
Information about conservation actions
Ringed Plovers nesting on beaches are especially vulnerable to disturbance and this restricts the availability of nesting habitat (Prater 1989; Liley & Sutherland 2007). Therefore, actions which reduce human recreational disturbance at selected sites may be important. Preventing nest loss from human activity (e.g. by fencing nests) is predicted to increase the population by 8% and complete absence of human presence (i.e. exclusion from beaches) to increase the population by 85% (Liley & Sutherland 2010).
Where disturbance is minimal, removing some vegetation to create suitable habitat for plovers can potentially also increase the number of plovers nesting in an area, based on one experimental study in Lancashire (Wilson 2005). On machair habitat in the Uists,they may benefit from rotational cultivation which includes both plough and fallow stages (Fuller 2018) Predation may also be important at some sites and therefore predation control may be required. For example, introduced hedgehogs are believed to be an issue on the Western Isles (Jackson et al. 2004; Jackson 2007; Calladine et al. 2017). Protection of individual nests from predators could also improve nest success: Provision of wire mesh cages placed over nests has been shown to protect the closely related little ringed plover Charadrius dubius from predation (Gulickx & Kemp 2007), although cages can sometimes also attract attention from more intelligent predators (Colwell & Haig 2019).
Although focused on Charadrius plovers as a group and not specifically on Ringed Plovers, Colwell & Haig (2019) discuss a number of further potential conservation actions such as managing human behaviours (e.g. signage to educate visitors; prompt litter and road kill removal to reduce presence of predators); managing habitats; and lethal and non-lethal predator managements (e.g. conditioned taste aversion, scare tactics and translocation).
Breeding populations of Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius and Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula in the United Kingdom in 2007
A tale of two plovers
BTO research sheds light on the differing fortunes of two small UK-breeding waders.
Changes in breeding wader populations of the Uist machair and adjacent habitats between 1983 and 2022
Study shows 25% decline in breeding waders between 1983 and 2022
Protected sites are assigned based on population statistics for vulnerable and endangered species. This new study using WeBS data shows that changes in population size can affect local abundance, and thus influence whether or not key targets are met for site protection.
Continuing influences of introduced hedgehogs Erinaceus europaeus as a predator of wader (Charadrii) eggs four decades after their release on the Outer Hebrides, Scotland
Non-native predators can cause major declines or even localised extinctions in prey populations across the globe, especially on islands.
Sensitivity mapping for breeding waders in Britain: towards producing zonal maps to guide wader conservation, forest expansion and other land-use changes. Report with specific data for Northumberland and north-east Cumbria
Sensitivity mapping for breeding waders
Models to be used towards the development of tools to guide, inform and minimise conflict between wader conservation and forest expansion.
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