Return of the Pacific golden plover

Pacific golden plover feeding

This week’s Sunday Stills challenge theme is ‘Autumn,’ (more responses here) which poses a bit of a challenge. In Hawaii, we don’t have leaves turning color or a certain crispness in the air. But what we do have at this time of year is migratory birds coming to the islands.

One of the more impressive of these travelers is the Pacific golden plover. These birds spend the summer, their breeding season, in the Arctic tundra from western Alaska to northern Asia. At the end of the season they make an epic migration south to places as far away as Australia, Southeast Asia, and northeast Africa.

Hawaii is a stopover on their way to Australia, New Zealand, and other Pacific islands, but some of the birds spend their winters in Hawaii. This is a non-stop journey of more than 2,500 miles and takes the birds three to four days. How they do this is not fully understood. There are no landmarks or stopping points en route and no room for errors in navigation. But year after year, Pacific golden plovers return precisely to the same sites. Not only that, but new born plovers are able to make the journey independently despite never having flown the route before.

Then there’s the small matter of how this little bird fuels itself for such a long flight. There’s a fine balance between the amount of fuel it must carry and the need to fly fast. But even if it gets this right, the fact is an individual plover still wouldn’t be able to go that far. The secret lies in the birds flying in a V-formation which saves enough energy for the birds to make the whole distance with a little bit to spare to cover adverse conditions. It’s a remarkably precise balance which the birds manage successfully year after year.

This plover was foraging (successfully in the top photo) in tide pools along the Kona coast.

For more information about the Pacific golden plover’s migration to Hawaii, go to

Pacific golden plover

12 thoughts on “Return of the Pacific golden plover

        1. Graham Post author

          Yes. I’ve heard that the reason Polynesians first came to Hawaii was that plovers used to winter there and then head north to Alaska for the summer. The Polynesians figured that they must have been headed somewhere and so followed them in boats. Over a long period of time they followed them all the way to Hawaii, which is one of the stopping places on the migration for birds that have gone farther south.

          Liked by 1 person

  1. Terri Webster Schrandt

    Graham, this is great to show the perspectives of the seasons with bird migrations! Your photos are beautiful, the plover is quite lovely! We’re hearing and seeing the Canadian Snow geese fly around now as they look for the temperate climate of Nor Cal. I was able to use that v-shape formation in my management class–that nature already knows how to manage its citizens 🙂

    Liked by 1 person


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