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Black-Bellied Plover: Easy Way to Identify in the Winter

Black-Bellied Plover: Easy Way to Identify in the Winter
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I first saw the Black-Bellied Plover on a misty morning walk. As I pulled my camera out to take a few photos, I could identify them as some sort of plover based on their shape. However, I had no idea what type of plover it was at first.

I had gone out on a walk hoping to photograph a few Killdeer that I knew lived in the area. Seeing the Black-Bellied Plovers on the shoreline, I stood back a distance and watched. They saw me and I saw them, but they did not fly away when I kept my distance.

Plover walking near the shoreline of Puget Sound
Searching for food.

Watching closely, I saw they searched for food in a group of six on this particular morning. The Black-Bellied Plover closest to me kept a more fastidious eye on me than the others. When it scurried up toward the rest of the group, they moved as well. I watched as one Black-Bellied Plover after another bent down and ate something out of the seaweed or the creeping edge of a wave. After they ate, they would walk quickly to another spot and repeat the process.

If I went for a walk in the early morning, especially on cloudy mornings, I often saw them feeding along the edge of Puget Sound. Several mornings, I found a group of Black Bellied Plovers eating right alongside a group of Killdeer. Often, I also spotted a murder of crows nearby, usually closer to the driftwood. Occasionally, a Great Blue Heron or two would stand in the shallow water and a Bald Eagle would fly back and forth overhead from its nest to hunt.

Bird at the edge of the water
At water’s edge.

Black-Bellied Plover Winter Identification

If you’re like me, often you’ll get to know a bird very well in the summer or know the coloration of the adult bird. I struggle with winter plumages and various juvenile forms. Originally, I thought these plovers that I spotted were juveniles. However, when I did some research, I realized that they shifted to a winter plumage.

In the summer, they have a very distinct black belly that extends down to the legs and up on the belly, chest, and neck.

In the winter, the Black-Bellied Plover changes to have more of a mottled look with a white belly. The best way to confirm your identification in the winter is to watch it flying. A black spot remains throughout the year underneath the wing — in the “wingpit” if you will.

Here are some other helpful pieces of information for you to identify them in the field:

Pinterest Pin for the Black-Bellied Plover showing the black wingpit identification
Main Identification in Winter

Black-Bellied Plover General Characteristics

  • Winter: mottled gray and white wings and back with white belly
  • Spring: Head and back gray tones with black on face, neck, chest, and belly
  • At all times: black patch in “wingpit” underneath wings
  • Lays four spotted eggs at a time in a line
  • Mostly eats aquatic invertebrates


  • Tundra in spring and summer
  • Coastlines, coastal marshes in winter


  • Summers: Alaska, Siberia, and Northern Canada
  • Winters: southern continents
  • Some stay on US Pacific Coast for winter
  • Lives on six continents
Black Bellied Plover flying with wings down showing back feature coloration in winter.
Black- Bellied Plover Flying

Black-Bellied Plover & the Traveling Nature Journal

Two page journal spread of the Black-Bellied Plover with text, a polaroid photo, and a drawing.
Black-Bellied Plover Journal Spread

To make a journal entry about a bird with only their winter plumage, I knew I had to make the photo reveal the biggest identifier. I thought the photo would best portray the black “wingpit” of the Black-Bellied Plover. Using the trusty Instax Fujifilm Polaroid Printer, I printed my favorite photo that I took of it flying. It shows the color variations better than I could have drawn myself.

Next, I went for the sketch. I like to sketch on a different color paper in order to make my 08 Black Micron Pen drawing pop a little more. Personally, I like to draw in the mono-color medium. I got a lot of green printer paper to use for this journal for the spread titles and sketches.

Lastly, I added notes to help me identify them again. Because I travel often, sometimes I go quite awhile between seeing a given bird. Therefore, I add these general characteristics and where I can find them to remind myself later. This helps immensely when the name comes just to the tongue and I cannot think of it.

Pinterest Pin with nature journal and flying bird.
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Monday 30th of November 2020

Ahh, now I'll know what I'm seeing! Previously I just saw them as one of the killdeer.


Monday 30th of November 2020

That's great! They are actually in the same family. I'll be making a post on the Killdeer soon, stay tuned!

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