Three-banded Plover (Charadrius tricollaris)

Cover image: Three-banded Plover by Ansie Dee Reis – Dikhololo Resort, North West – BirdPix No. 265474


The Three-banded Plover is distinctive and easily recognisable, and is the only plover in the region with a double black breast band.

Identification guide to Three-banded Plover
Three-banded Plover (Charadrius tricollaris)
Stilbaai, Western Cape
Photo by Attie van Aarde

The undersides are white, broken only by the aforementioned double black breast bands on the upper breast and lower throat. The chin and throat is greyish-white and the remainder of the face and neck is greyish-brown. The upperparts and crown are dark greyish-brown. There is a white head-band stretching from the forehead and supercilium to meet on the lower hind neck. In flight the Three-banded Plover is seen to have white underwings and a wedge-shaped tail.

The bill is coral-red with a black tip. The eyes are yellow-brown with a red eye ring and the legs and feet are reddish-pink. The sexes are alike.

Three-banded Plover (Charadrius tricollaris)
Rondevlei, Western Cape
Photo by Andre Kok

Juveniles resemble adults but are duller and the feathers on the upper parts and breast bands are edged in pale brown and they have less distinct facial markings. They also have duller, more orange coloured legs and eye-rings.

Three-banded Plover (Charadrius tricollaris)
Karoo Gariep Nature Reserve, Northern Cape
Photo by Josu Meléndez

Status and Distribution

The Three-banded Plover is a common to very common resident and local migrant.

It is widespread across sub-Saharan Africa, ranging almost continuously from Ethiopia across to Gabon and down to South Africa and is also widespread on Madagascar. It is found throughout southern Africa except the very driest parts of Botswana, Namibia and the Northern Cape. It is scarce in high mountainous and heavily wooded or forested regions, but is liable to turn up almost anywhere there is suitable habitat.

SABAP2 distribution map for Three-banded Plover
SABAP2 distribution map for Three-banded Plover (Charadrius tricollaris) – November 2023. Details for map interpretation can be found here.

The Three-banded Plover has expanded its distribution greatly since the advent of dam building throughout Southern Africa. Previously its range would have been notably more fragmented. The Three-banded Plover has a healthy conservation status and is not threatened.


Habitat – Ndumo Game Reserve, KwaZulu-Natal
Photo by Ryan Tippett

The Three-banded Plover occurs in the widest range of aquatic habitats of any wader in Southern Africa. It makes extensive use of artificial waterbodies, especially farm dams and even visits puddles formed by leaking pipes in arid areas. Its choice of wetland habitat is almost independent of vegetation type.

It is frequent along the open mud or sand shores of any freshwater habitat, favouring pools, streams and seeps, as well as sandbanks along larger rivers, farm dams and sewage works. It is sometimes found along the coast where it visits rock and tidal pools, estuaries and lagoons, but is rare along open coastlines.

Habitat for Three-banded Plover
Habitat – Mkhuze Game Reserve, KwaZulu-Natal
Photo by Ryan Tippett


The Three-banded Plover is typically encountered singly, in pairs, or in groups of up to 10 or so birds. It is less gregarious than other small plovers but occurs in loose flocks of varying sizes when not breeding. It is found in pairs during the breeding season.

Three-banded Plover
Three-banded Plover (Charadrius tricollaris)
Kruger National Park, Limpopo
Photo by Richard Johnstone

Three-banded Plovers are partial intra-African migrants in response to seasonal rainfall but its movements are poorly understood. It is largely sedentary in areas of higher rainfall.

The Three-banded Plover bobs its head and body up and down when disturbed. It is alert but is often fairly confiding. The flight is rocking and erratic and it raises and lowers its tail repeatedly upon landing.

Three-banded Plover
Three-banded Plover (Charadrius tricollaris)
Carnarvon district, Northern Cape
Photo by Ryan Tippett

They are active both day and night, foraging with the typical plover ‘stop-start’ running action. Prey is located visually and pecked from the substrate. The Three-banded Plover consumes a variety of terrestrial and aquatic invertebrates, including insects, crustaceans, small molluscs and worms.

Three-banded Plover (Charadrius tricollaris)
Langebaan district, Western Cape
Photo by Graham Bull

Breeding occurs in southern Africa throughout the year. At the onset of the breeding season males perform courtship displays with the breast touching the ground and the tail raised and sometimes fanned.

Three-banded Plovers are monogamous, territorial and solitary nesters and territories are maintained throughout the breeding cycle. Breeding territories are established along 80-150 m of shoreline and are defended from rivals by flying or running at conspecifics with a crouched posture, and with flank feathers fluffed out, frequently while emitting a rattling call.

Three-banded Plover (Charadrius tricollaris)
Welkom district, Free State
Photo by Janet du Plooy

The nest is a simple scrape in the substrate and is usually situated close to water. Nests are lined with bits of vegetation, dried mud or pebbles. 1 to 2 (rarely 3) eggs are laid per clutch and are laid at 1 or 2 day intervals. Incubation likely begins once the final egg has been laid and incubation duties are shared by both sexes. Females incubate the eggs during the day, whilst males spend their days defending the territory. Males then take their turn to incubate at night, when females head off to feed. The incubating bird sits tight, sometimes allowing intruder to within 3 m before running away.

On hot days the incubating female sometimes crouches over the eggs and occasionally soaks her belly feathers with water to cool down the eggs.

Three-banded Plover (Charadrius tricollaris)
Kruger National Park, Limpopo
Photo by Terry Terblanche

Newly hatched young are precocial and covered in down. They are brooded frequently by both parents, usually in response to intruders, rain or low temperatures. The adults Parent crouch up and down to encourage chicks to be brooded. The young are fully fledged at around 31 days, but may remain with their parents for a further 10 days or so.

Three-banded Plovers are often double, or sometimes even triple-brooded, meaning they attempt to breed more than once during the breeding season. Female are sometimes known to lay a second clutch well before the first brood is fully fledged.

Three-banded Plover
Three-banded Plover (Charadrius tricollaris)
Hoedspruit district, Limpopo
Photo by Neels Putter

Further Resources

Species text from the first Southern African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP1), 1997.

The use of photographs by Andre Kok, Ansie Dee Reis, Attie van Aarde, Graham Bull, Janet du Plooy, Josu Meléndez, Karis Daniel, Neels Putter, Richard Johnstone and Terry Terblanche is acknowledged.

Virtual Museum (BirdPix > Search VM > By Scientific or Common Name).

Other common names: Driebandstrandkiewiet (Afrikaans); Inqatha (Xhosa); N’wantshekutsheku, Xitsekutseku (Tswana); Driebandplevier (Dutch); Pluvier à triple collier (French); Dreiband-Regenpfeifer (German); Borrelho-de-três-golas (Portuguese)

A list of bird species in this format is available here.

Recommended citation format: Tippett RM 2023. Three-banded Plover Charadrius tricollaris. Biodiversity and Development Institute. Available Online at

Bird identificationbirding

Three-banded Plover
Three-banded Plover (Charadrius tricollaris)
Near Clanwilliam, Western Cape
Photo by Karis Daniel
Ryan Tippett
Ryan Tippett
Ryan is an enthusiastic contributor to Citizen Science and has added many important and interesting records of fauna and flora. He has been a member of the Virtual Museum since 2014 and has currently submitted over 12,000 records. He is on the expert identification panel for the OdonataMAP project. Ryan is a well-qualified and experienced Field Guide, and Guide Training Instructor. He has spent the last 18 years in the guiding and tourism industries. Ryan loves imparting his passion and knowledge onto others, and it is this that drew him into guide training in particular. Something that he finds incredibly rewarding is seeing how people he's had the privilege of teaching have developed and gone on to greater things. His interests are diverse and include Dragonflies, Birding, Arachnids, Amphibians, wild flowers and succulents, free diving and experiencing big game on foot. With this range of interests, there is always likely be something special just around the corner!