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Grey Plover

Mainly a winter visit to the shores of Poole and Christchurch harbours

Photograph by: 
Peter Orchard

To my mind the grey plover (Pluvialis squatarola) is something of a forgotten bird. Ask a number of Dorset birders to name ten waders and I suspect very few would include grey plover in their list, I am not sure why. They are rather plain, drab birds in winter I suppose, no remarkable plumage and they are not that big and so not particularly impressive. They also seem to be solitary birds, usually seen on the waters edge at low tide feeding alone rather than in the company of their fellows. Do they even look a bit sad or is it just me being sentimental?  

In common with several of the wader species we get on the shores of Dorset the grey plover is an Arctic breeder coming south to spend the winter here. That said grey plover can be seen all year round with a small number of non-breeding birds choosing to stay here throughout the summer. Less like other waders they tend to be more solitary, even a little territorial, and are rarely seen in any numbers together although they are not uncommon in favoured sandy or muddy sites along the Dorset coast. 

The presence all year round is reflected in the weekly reports chart with records for virtually every week of the year but bizarrely, at the time of writing in February 2019, there have been no records for weeks 7 and 8 during the time the Nature of Dorset database has been operating. This may just be coincidental or it may show that wintering birds here decide to move further south in the depth of winter to warmer climes. There is a peak of reports in the spring from week 17 to 19 in May which would indicate passage of migrant birds from Europe and Africa heading back north and stopping off here for rest and food. 

The distribution map shows that many of the Poole Harbour sites have grey plover as, too, does Christchurch Harbour and various points along the Fleet. This reflects their habitat preference feeding on mudflats at low tide and moving to nearby higher but wet ground when forced off during high tides.

To make grey plover a Dorset tick I would suggest an autumn visit to Brownsea where they can be seen close up from the hides overlooking the lagoon.


Grey Plover: the forgotten one?

Common Name Grey Plover
Scientific Name Pluvialis squatarola
Species Group Birds Plovers
Status Occasional
Interest Level
  • 01 - January
  • 02 - February
  • 03 - March
  • 04 - April
  • 05 - May
  • 06 - June
  • 07 - July
  • 08 - August
  • 09 - September
  • 10 - October
  • 11 - November
  • 12 - December
Look for

A plump wader, on its own, displaying a dark eye stripe

Identification Notes
  • Winter in Dorset every year and can also be seen in small numbers during the summer
  • Can be seen on mudflats feeding at low tide but often on their own rather than social groups
  • A plump bird with a short neck and horizontal stance 
Primary Habitat
Preferred Environment
Look for
Additional Identification Notes
Similar Species

The records for this species have been organised into reports, charts, maps and photos. Click a pic below to see the detail:

Notebook Distribution Map Sites List Some Charts Some Photographs Recent Records Guidance Notes

To see related species click here: 

Birds Plovers