PLOVER, a bird whose name (Fr. pluvier, O. Fr. plovier) doubtless has its origin in the Latin pluvia, rain (as witness the German equivalent Regenpfeifer, rain-fifer). P. Belon (1555) says that the name Pluvier is bestowed “pour ce qu'on le prend mieux en temps pluvieux qu'en nulle autre saison,” which is not in accordance with modern observation, for in rainy weather plovers are wilder and harder to approach than in fine. Others have thought it is from the spotted (as though with rain-drops) upper plumage of two of the commonest species of plovers, to which the name especially belongs—the Charadrius pluvialis of Linnaeus, or golden plover, and the Squatarola helvetica of recent ornithologists, or grey plover. Both these birds are very similar in general appearance, but the latter is the larger and has an aborted hind-toe on each foot. Its axillary feathers are also black, while in the golden plover they are pure white. The grey plover is a bird of almost circumpolar range, breeding in the far north of America, Asia and eastern Europe, frequenting in spring and autumn the coasts of the more temperate parts of each continent, and generally retiring farther southward in winter—examples not infrequently reaching Cape Colony, Ceylon, Australia and even Tasmania. Charadrius pluvialis has a much narrower distribution, though where it occurs it is much more numerous. Its breeding quarters do not extend farther than from Iceland to western Siberia, but include the more elevated tracts in the British Islands, whence in autumn it spreads itself, often in immense flocks, over the cultivated districts if the fields be sufficiently open. Here some will remain so long as the absence of frost or snow permits, but the majority make for the Mediterranean basin, or the countries beyond, in which to winter; and stragglers find their way to the southern extremity of Africa. Two other cognate forms, C. virginicus and C. fulvus, respectively represent C. pluvialis in America and eastern Asia, where they are also known by the same English name. The discrimination of these two birds from one another requires a very acute eye, but both are easily distinguished from their European ally by their smaller size, their greyish-brown axillary feathers, and their proportionally longer and more slender legs. All, however—and the same is the case with the grey plover—undergo precisely the same seasonal change of colour, greatly altering their appearance and equally affecting both sexes. In spring or early summer nearly the whole of the lower plumage from the chin to the vent, which during winter has been nearly pure white, becomes deep black. A corresponding alteration is at the same season observable in the upper plumage.
Though the birds just spoken of are those most emphatically entitled to be called plovers, the group of ringed plovers (see Killdeer and Lapwing), with its allies, has, according to usage, hardly less claim to the name, which is also extended to some other more distant forms that can here have only the briefest notice. Among them one of the most remarkable is the “ Zickzack " (so-called from its cry)—the τροχίλος of Herodotus (see Humming-bird), the Pluvianus or Hyas aegyptius of ornithologists, celebrated for the services it is said to render to the crocodile—a small bird whose plumage of delicate lavender and cream colour is relieved by markings of black and white. This belongs to the small family Glareolidae, of which the members best known are the coursers, Cursorius, with some eight or ten species inhabiting the deserts of Africa and India, while one, C. gallicus, occasionally strays to Europe and even to England. Allied to them are the curious pratincoles (q.v.), also peculiar to the Old World, while the genera Thinocoris and Attagis form an outlying group peculiar to South America, that is by some systematists regarded as a separate family Thinocoridae, near which are often placed the singular Sheathbills (q.v.). By most authorities the Stone-curlews (see Curlew), the Oyster-catchers (q.v.) and Turnstones (q.v.) are also regarded as belonging to the family Charadriidae, and some would add the Avocets (Recurvirostra) and Stilts (q.v.), among which the Cavalier, or Crab-plover, Dramas ardeola—a form that has been bandied about from one family and even order to another—should possibly find its resting-place. It frequents the sandy shores of the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal from Natal to Aden, and thence to Ceylon, the Malabar coast, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands—a white and black bird, mounted on long legs, with webbed feet, and a bill so shaped as to have made some of the best ornithologists lodge it among the Terns (q.v.).
Though the various forms here spoken of as plovers are almost certainly closely allied, they must be regarded as constituting a very indefinite group, for hardly any strong line of demarcation can be drawn between them and the Sandpipers and Snipes (q.v.). United, however, with both of the latter under the name of Limicolae, after the method approved by the most recent systematists, the whole form an assemblage the compactness of which no observant ornithologist can hesitate to admit, even if he be uncertain of the exact kinship.
- But for this really unimportant distinction both birds could doubtless have been kept by ornithologists in the same genus, for they agree in most other structural characters.
- Schlegel (Mus. Pays-Bas, Cursores, p. 53) states that in some examples it seems impossible to determine the form to which they belong; but ordinarily American specimens are rather larger and stouter, and have shorter toes than those from Asia.