The breeding adult is spotted gold and black on the crown, back and wings. Its face and neck are black with a white border and it has a black breast and a dark rump. The legs are black. In winter, the black is lost and the plover then has a yellowish face and breast, and white underparts.
Phenomenal long-distance travelers, after breeding in the Arctic, these plovers migrate to spend winter almost half way around the world (5,000-13,000km away one-way). Some winter on tiny islands in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, a feat requiring precise navigation. Alaskan breeders winter in Hawaii, Fiji, South Pacific Islands, all the way to New Zealand.
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