Click here for more species of shorebird and wader in our guide to identification and plumage, or read on for Grey Plover.
Juvenile birds arriving in Europe from late Sept will remain on wintering grounds through to their 3rd cy, and will breed only in their 3rd cy, so can be distinguished in the spring of their 2nd cy from older birds (moulting into their breeding plumage, preparing to return to breeding grounds) by the faded notching on their tertials, contrasting with the fresh plumage of older birds.
Partial J-moult typically does not involve tertials, and much juv plumage is retained until year-end, with GCs retained through to spring. Juvenile tertials have yellowish spotting or dogtoothing, contrasting with winter adult tertials which have faded brownish-grey barring.
First winter (1w) birds have fine streaking on breast, whitish belly with fine light brown streaking, faded (notched) or unfaded (spotted yellow) tertials. Central tail feathers have fine barring. Some yellow always visible on upperparts, and yellowish fringed coverts (especially on juvenile GCs which are retained to spring).
Winter adults have overall brownish-grey look, with faded barring on tertials, and whitish fringing to tertials and coverts. Like winter Curlew, look for uniformity between tertials, GCs and lower scapulars:
grey- brownish, barred and faded = winter adult.
grey-brownish barred tertials contrasting with yellow-fringed or notched tertial/scapulars/mantle = 1w (early winter).
Note that 1w birds will (by Nov) appear more faded and less tidy than adults as winter progresses, because adults will have a full post-breeding moult, (whereas 1w will have had a partial post-juv moult): so by mid to late winter, 1w will be looking more worn (primaries, tertials and coverts) with feather tracts less neat than adults, which will look fresher with neater tracts.
Note also that Grey Plover do not breed until their third calendar year, and so 2cy birds will show plumages that are intermediate between non-breeding and adult breeding.
Focus on the tertials in all age groups.
Juvenile, with spotted or dogtooth yellowish tertials. Moulting none or only one, these tertials will be retained until the autumn of its 2 cy, and so will appear more faded (notched) as winter progresses, in contrast with tertials of adult birds. Image: Richard Chandler
1w or 2cy winter bird: dogtooth notching on tertials with broken fringing at tips. Wing coverts with worn and messy appearance. Remember, winter adults have complete post-breeding moult complete around Oct and so will appear smarter, with feather tracts on the closed wing appearing neater than worn 1w or 2cy birds, particularly as winter progresses (difference notable from Dec onwards). Note the GCs and coverts with broken tips (unlike the winter adult, with unbroken fringes). Image: Richard Chandler
2 cy winter/spring bird, showing worn, notched tertials and messy feather tracts on wing. Photo taken in May in Norfolk. Image: Richard Chandler
Winter adult in non-breeding plumage following complete post-breeding moult (finished by Dec), showing fresh, neat feather tracts and barred (not notched) tertials, and unbroken fringes on GCs and coverts. Image: Richard Chandler
Grey Plover age groups. Graphic by Włodzimierz Meissner & Tomasz Cofta.