This story depicts the courtship behaviour of the Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula), a chubby, long-legged shorebird that is about as big as a lark. Ringed Plovers are either short-distance migrants or medium- up to long-distance migrants. Thus they hibernate for example on the British Isles (short-distance migrants) as well as in Mauretania (long-distance migrants).

Most of their brooding habitats are in open, flat shores and lakeshores covered by areas with short grass, sand and gravel in Central and Northern Europe, but also in the tundra. In Germany, the highest number of broods is in certain districts of the national parks on the North Sea coast.

Males and females are very similar; however, the male can generally be identified by its plumage which is marked by a more distinct blackening of the neckband and especially of the mask around the eyes.

The neckband and posterior mask of the female's plumage, however, is often marked by a slight brown colouring.

Rarely, there are also colour deviations - like you can see on this picture that shows a male marked by an enhanced whitening of the head and neck area.

Ringed Plovers form strict, monogamous pairs for the duration of the breeding season: If female and male have formed a partnership once, they keep meeting annually at the breeding season - as long as both partners are still alive - in order to produce offspring once again.
If the small birds arrive in their breeding habitats in early spring, their territory bond, thus their territory behaviour grows stronger till the beginning of the breeding season. Fellow species as well as other bird species are immediately and aggressively chased away, as soon as they intrude into the territory which is about 300 to 400 square metres large.

At this time, the male gives the female its best attention and woos it again and again. It straightens up imposingly and shows itself at its best by fluffing up its breast feathers.

Some time before the actual beginning of the breeding season, the male shows a special behaviour - the so-called "pseudo nesting". Its pseudo nesting attitude can already be identified by its gait: While running around, it ducks its head so that its back almost runs horizontally. In this way, it looks for a suitable nesting place.

If the male has found such a nesting place, it lets out pseudo nesting sounds. These are special, short and bright calls signifying the beginning of the pseudo nesting.

After that, the male perches on the ground with ruffled breast feathers.

In this position, its wings are slightly splayed out and opened so that the alulae touch the ground and the pinions point upwards.

Now the bird's legs continuously kick out backwards like a drum roll so that the sand below its lifted tail flies away vehemently.

Sitting on its strongly bent legs the bird swings around its longitudinal axis by slightly lifting its hip and leg joints alternately so that its breastbone paws the ground to and fro.

Now and then the assiduously working male gets up, spins around a bit and perches again on the newly found position. Due to those constant changes of direction, a small nest hollow is generated within a short time. During the whole activity, the bird steadily lets out loud pseudo nesting calls.

If a female appears in close vicinity to the wooing male ….

.... the courting male bird quickly runs towards it with a slight stoop and ....

.... starts its direct invitation to copulate. It stops about 40 centimetres in front of its adored one and assumes the so-called imposing gesture. By doing so, it slackens its pace and stretches its legs and neck as far as possible.

Now the gait changes into the pass in review. The suitor highly and quickly throws up its shiny orange legs alternately into the air thus advancing only a few centimeters with each step.

Optically, this gait looks very much like a parading soldier.

In this way, the male slowly approaches the waiting female which turns its back to it.


Again and again, the male bird alternately tosses its legs quickly and strongly forwards - up to over half of its height. By doing so, its breast is lifted and its breast feathers are ruffled up.


The receptive female stands still until the male parading on the spot slowly approaches its side.

The beloved slightly turns around on the spot ….

.... so does the male maintaining its display behavior.

When the female pauses, the male cautiously
lifts a leg ....

.... and jumps onto the female bird.

After balancing on the female back for a short time ....

.... the male firmly sits down onto the female which now has to keep its balance.

While the female slightly bends forwards and lifts its abdomen, the male slowly slides backwards.

Now the copula takes place. The act per se just takes less than a second. As soon as the copulation has taken place, the female advances with a hasty leap. As a result, the male falls down onto the floor.

Right away, the male leaves the female with a submissive stoop ….

.... looking for the nearest bordering shallow water ....

.... in order to take a short yet intense bath to relieve the stress pent up previously.

Strong flaps not only shake off water drops from its feathers but also take off the remaining stress.

After the female has selected one of the male's established pseudo nests, it usually lays four, rarely even three eggs which are centrifugal, have a pale brown, sandy colour and black and grew spots.
Female and male take equal turns at

At this stage, the aggressive behaviour of both birds reaches its climax. As soon as a conspecific or another bird species comes near the territorial boundaries, the Ringed Plover - the photo shows the male - assumes an aggressive posture. At first, it straightens up again fluffing up its breast feathers, so that the black neck band sharply contrasts with its white throat.

After this, the threatening bird lowers its front body, slightly buckles, fluffs up its feathering and runs towards its enemy.

If it gets close to the troublemaker, it steeply raises and fans out its tail feathers while constantly exclaiming threatening sounds. The sharp black and white contrast emerging on the augmented plumage at the end of its tail now appears to be very threatening.

If the intruder - the example image shows a Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) - is still unimpressed, the Ringed Plover attacks.

During its own foraging, the Ruddy Turnstone has entered the brooding habitat of the Ringed Plover pair. This is enough to be driven away by the aggressive landlord as quickly as possible. This photo clearly shows the deterrent effect of the contrast enhancement on the greatly enlarged, highly raised tail feathers.

Again and again, the attacker circles the Ruddy Turnstone and threatens it by impressive pseudo attacks and jumps.

The attacked defends itself by quick pecks, but the Ringed Plover keeps evading those tries of defense cleverly.

Although the Ruddy Turnstone is superior to the Ringed Plover which physically is significantly weaker, it cannot stop the aggressor's persistent attacks.

Finally, the attacked gives up enervated and changes its feeding territory. The male Ringed Plover contentedly flies back to the nest and widely stretches both of its wings up into the air as a final threat - a typical display behavior of shorebirds.

Females and males share the brooding at equal parts; the brooding change-over occurs irregularly and depends from the time of day; in bad weather this takes place very often.

When it replaces the female, the male appears a few metres next to the nest, pauses briefly and checks whether everything is fine.

Then it runs to the nest until it almost reaches it ….

.... stops and waits until the breeding female gets up and runs away. Now the male gets close to the nest. During the replacement procedure both birds let out threatening and fond sounds.

At some distance to the nest, the replaced female shakes its feathers several times ….

.... in order to start foraging after that.

Ringed Plover is a pronounced eye hunter that prefers to prey on microbes moving on solid ground free of vegetation. This bird is able to recognize those living things optically (until up to a distance of one metre) or acoustically.
The foraging female (see photo) runs ("rolls" according to
Ringed Plover style) over short distances of 0,1 up to 1 metre, ….

.... pauses, listens or watches the immediate vicinity, then goes on running after ten seconds at the latest as a rule, this time diagonally to the previous direction, peers again briefly (about half a second) ….

.... and picks. After that, it immediately goes on running. In this way, it takes up any microbe moving on the ground.

Prey hiding in the mud ....

... or in humid sand are brought into action by the bird (the photo shows a male with intensified whitening in the head and breast area) when it pauses during running, slightly buckles in its heel joints, shifts its weight on one leg, puts the other leg slightly to the fore and then pecks very quickly on the sand or mud. In this way, it almost always roots up prey which it subsequently takes up by a quick peck.

When the female has eaten enough prey, it replaces the breeding male that in turns also starts foraging.
The female turns the eggs and continues brooding.

As a rule, the
brooding period lasts about 24 days. The squabs usually fledge about 22 days after hatching.
hatching, the young birds leave the nest very quickly, mostly even after a few hours, and are then alternately guided by their parents until the latter start brooding a second time. At this stage, the squabs of the first brood are chased away. In case the first clutch is lost, second clutches will be built as a rule.