• Photo: A. A. Allen Ph.D., Cornell University

Has Canadian Geographic’s National Bird Project left you feeling a bit bird-brained? It’s no wonder: choosing Canada’s official bird is a big job. And with so many species to choose from, some notable species are sure to be left out of the running. So we at Canadian Geographic are honouring one of those species as part of our #ThrowbackThursday series: the American golden plover.

The plover's migratory route. (Map: W.J. Flood)

In 1937, the Canadian Geographical Journal published a whimsical map and story characterizing the migration of the golden plover (Along the Airways of the Golden Plover by John Peter Turner). The poetic narrative is tireless in its pursuit of the golden-black flocks, whose migration takes them from their tundra breeding grounds in Arctic Canada and Alaska to their grassland wintering grounds in central and southern South America, and back again. At 40,000km, it is one of the longest migrations of any shorebird, a portion of which is over an open ocean expanse with no place to rest. The author noted that, “Many will perish from fatigue, storm, predatory foes, and man; and yet the overwhelming passion knows no faltering; no deterrent can dim the urge to reach some far off goal.”

Often found far out at sea during their great migration, the golden plover has been credited for leading explorer Christopher Columbus to American land in 1492. Five centuries later, in 1993, the species was officially split in two: the American Golden-Plover and the Pacific Golden-Plover. Though their Arctic ranges overlap, the two were found to have different breeding and nesting habits, with the Pacific contingent preferring the Pacific Islands in winter.

Though it is considered a species of least concern on the IUCN Red List, species numbers are decreasing. The species never fully recovered from heavy hunting in the late 19th century and is believed to be affected by habitat loss in its South American range.