Little Ringed Plover

Charadrius dubius

Feisty shorebirds, little ringed plovers can be spotted in the UK in summer months, actively foraging around the edges of gravel pits and reservoirs. But they arent around for long by late summer, migration to their wintering grounds in sub-Saharan Africa is underway.

Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover in flight

Little Ringed Plover in flight

Close up of a Little Ringed Plover

Close up of a Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover pair displaying during courtship

Little Ringed Plover pair displaying during courtship

Appearance & Identification

What do Little Ringed Plovers look like?

The appearance of little ringed plovers varies throughout the year, with distinct plumages for breeding and non-breeding seasons, as well as subtle differences between males and females.

Breeding males have brown upper parts and white underparts, and a black collar, which widens into a black band across the breast. Their chin and throat are white, extending to form a ring around the neck, above the black collar.

The crown is brown, with a bold black eye mask and forehead, punctuated by a white patch directly above the bill. They have bold wide yellow eyerings around their black eyes, and their feet and legs are pinkish-grey.

Close up of a Little Ringed Plover

Close up of a Little Ringed Plover

Breeding female little ringed plovers are similar in markings to males, but have a slightly narrower eyering than males, and their breast band is less bold, with a brownish tinge.

Non-breeding adult little ringed plovers moult into a brownish plumage, which is particularly visible in the breast band. The forehead and eye stripe are a lighter buff-grey shade.

Juvenile little ringed plovers have a much duller plumage and head markings than the adults, and appear brownish overall, with a much fainter yellow eye ring. The barred breast is not fully developed and appears as two patches.

Their upperparts are pale brown, with buff-edged feathers, while underparts are white, and their legs and feet are a greyish-yellow.

Juvenile Little Ringed Plover

Juvenile Little Ringed Plover

How big are Little Ringed Plovers?

As their name suggests, little ringed plovers are by no means large or imposing birds and are smaller in body size than house sparrows. Males and females are the same size, falling within the measurement ranges below:

  • Length: 14 cm to 15 cm (5.5 in to 5.9 in)
  • Wingspan: 42 cm to 48 cm (16.5 in to 18.9 in)
  • Weight: 32 g to 48 g (1.1 in to 1.8 in)
Little Ringed Plover in non breeding plumage (winter)

Little Ringed Plover in non breeding plumage (winter)

Calls & Sounds

What sound does a Little Ringed Plover make?

The flight call of little ringed plovers is a burred ‘preeuw’ piping sound, while courtship calls during display flights, a series of rasping whistles can be heard. The distress call when approaching threats are sensed, is ‘pip-pip-pip’.


What do Little Ringed Plovers eat?

The diet of little ringed plovers is mainly insect-based, with beetles, flies, ants and crickets among the chief foods. Other invertebrates, including spiders and larvae are eaten, as well as shrimps, snails and tadpoles.

What do Little Ringed Plover chicks eat?

Juvenile little ringed plovers feed on insects and invertebrates and quickly learn the art of catching their own prey on shores, catching ants, flies and earthworms.

Little Ringed Plover foraging for food

Little Ringed Plover foraging for food

Habitat & Distribution

What is the habitat of a Little Ringed Plover?

Gravel pits, artificial reservoirs, shingle banks and the edges of flooded meadows provide little ringed plovers with suitable nesting and foraging sites.

Open coastal regions are less likely to attract little ringed plovers, as they prefer flat inland wetland landscapes, and also avoid regions with dense vegetation, preferring instead a sparsely vegetated environment.

What is the range of a Little Ringed Plover?

Little ringed plovers breed across northern and central Europe and into central and east Asia, from the UK, across southern Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia in the north as far as China, Japan and the Korean peninsula in the east.

Breeding occurs as far south as southern Portugal, Spain and parts of North Africa, southern Italy and Turkey, across central Asia, the Indian subcontinent and into South East Asia.

The winter range extends from Senegal in West Africa, throughout the sub-Saharan region to the coast of East Africa, as far south as northern Tanzania.

Year-round populations are present in India and parts of South East Asia, with further wintering grounds for north-east Asian populations found across Malaysia and Indonesia.

Where do Little Ringed Plovers live?

European population estimates for little ringed plovers are rather vague, with numbers between 100,000 and 1 million pairs quoted. Countries with the highest populations include Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.

Little Ringed Plover taking off for flight

Little Ringed Plover taking off for flight

How rare are Little Ringed Plovers?

Until the 1930s, little ringed plovers were rare visitors to the UK, but since 1938 have been regular breeders at a number of sites around the country.

Attracted by the many reservoirs and gravel pits that have been built and filled during the last century, little ringed plovers are a fairly common sight in their preferred habitats of shingle shores, sewage works and manmade reservoirs.

Where can you see Little Ringed Plovers in the UK?

Breeding grounds of little ringed plovers are most prevalent in southern, central and northern England. Some breeding also occurs in Wales, as well as lowlands in central and eastern Scotland.

Little Ringed Plovers are small, wading birds

Little Ringed Plovers are small, wading birds

Lifespan & Predation

How long do Little Ringed Plovers live?

On average, the expected lifespan of a little ringed plover is 4 years, with first-time breeding at 2 years. The oldest known individual was recorded in 2016 at 17 years and 10 months.

What are the predators of Little Ringed Plovers?

Mink, rats and hedgehogs are among the chief predators of young little ringed plovers, taking them and any unhatched eggs from nests. Seabirds, including skuas and gulls may attempt to target little ringed plovers and their nest sites.

Are Little Ringed Plovers protected?

Little ringed plovers are classed as Schedule 1 birds under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981, which gives them additional protection against their young, eggs, and nest site being damaged or disturbed, as well as making it illegal to kill, injure or capture an adult little ringed plover.

Are Little Ringed Plovers endangered?

Little ringed plovers have Green status on the British Birds of Conservation Concern list, and across their global range are classed as a species of least concern.

Little Ringed Plover feeding on an earthworm

Little Ringed Plover feeding on an earthworm

Nesting & Breeding

Where do Little Ringed Plovers nest?

Little ringed plover nests are rather basic structures, formed as a basic shallow scrape in the ground and either unlined or with some simple grasses or gravel added to the inside.

Ground-level nests are preferred, with nests built on flat rooftops on rare occasions. More common are sites on small islands or among low vegetation close to water, on the shores of gravel pits, reservoirs and sandy riverbanks.

What do Little Ringed Plover eggs look like?

A typical little ringed plover clutch consists of between three and five eggs, which are either buff, pale brown, grey-blue or stone coloured, with darker brown or black mottled markings.

Eggs measure 29.8 mm by 22.1 mm (1.2 in by 0.9 in) and are incubated by both males and females in turn for between 22 and 28 days.

Do Little Ringed Plovers mate for life?

Pair bonds formed between little ringed plovers do frequently last beyond one single breeding season. Occasionally a third ‘helper’ bird is present during breeding, but it is unclear what the dynamics of this extra bird is.

<p><strong>Little Ringed Plover nest with four eggs</strong></p>

Little Ringed Plover nest with four eggs

<p><strong>Adult Little Ringed Plover with young chick</strong></p>

Adult Little Ringed Plover with young chick


Are Little Ringed Plovers aggressive?

Little ringed plovers are observed to be a highly territorial and aggressive species, challenging any threats to their nest site by displaying their bold black and white markings.

They feed away from their nest sites, and frequently choose to breed in close proximity to other aggressive species, so they can enjoy the benefits of being exposed to fewer predators.


Do Little Ringed Plovers migrate?

European populations of little ringed plovers are entirely migratory, breeding in northern and central Europe, and flying south after they have raised their young to spend winters in the African tropics.

Into Central Asia, little ringed plovers that breed in Siberia and Russia migrate to South East Asia and India.

Are Little Ringed Plovers native to the UK?

Little ringed plovers are summer visitors to the UK, arriving in March to breed, and leaving from July onwards. By September, the last straggling little ringed plovers have left to spend winters in sub-Saharan Africa. Breeding in the UK was first recorded in 1938.

Front view of a Little Ringed Plover, searching for food

Front view of a Little Ringed Plover, searching for food


Do Little Ringed Plovers flock?

Little ringed plovers may form small flocks during migration, with between 10 and 12 birds gathering ahead of their journey to the African tropics. They are a typically solitary species and do not integrate with other wading bird species, preferring to stick to their own company.

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Quick Facts


Scientific name:

Charadrius dubius



Conservation status:




14cm to 15cm


42cm to 48cm


32g to 48g

Other birds in the Plovers family

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