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Length 26-29 cm, wingspan 67-76 cm Breeding adult is stocky with gold-on-black spangled back and cap; black face and belly with white supercilium which goes down neck along flanks; white undertail coverts. Amount of black on face and throat varies; most on northern males, least on southern females. Non-breeding adult has buffy supercilium, buffy unmarked throat, and golden spotted breast grading to white belly. Juvenile is very similar to non-breeding adult, differing in fine pale gold barring on the belly.
All plumages have short bill, bright golden spangled back, and white underwing coverts.
Overall more golden coloured than the other Pluvialis plovers.
American Golden Plover in all plumages has longer primary projection, darker golden coloured back, white contrasting supercilium, and grey underwing; in breeding plumage has totally black undertail coverts and belly; in nonbreeding and juvenile plumages has grey weakly barred belly and grey back with dark golden spots. Pacific Golden Plover in all plumages has darker golden coloured back, white contrasting supercilium, slightly longer legs, and grey underwing; in breeding plumage has white on flanks with black barring; nonbreeding plumage has greyish not as defined breast markings, whitish supercilium; juvenile has yellowish wash to face, barred yellowish breast and belly markings. Grey Plover is somewhat larger, with a longer, stouter bill, white undertail, black and white spotted back, and white uppertail coverts and rump.
Ground nesters. The nest is usually just a hollow in the open ground, relying on the egg colouration for camouflage. The clutch consists of 4 eggs, which vary from stone-coloured through buff to pale olive; they are well marked with reddish-brown or black streaks, spots and splotches.