We measured primary moult scores of 1051 Eurasian Golden Plovers Pluvialis apricaria staging in pastures in The Netherlands from 1978 to 2011. We hypothesized that moult may have advanced due to earlier breeding resulting from global climate change. At the same time, intensification of agricultural practices has changed the environment on which the Golden Plovers depend during migration and staging, which may have affected their condition and moult schedule.
Primary moult has advanced by 8 days from 1990 to 2011, without visible changes preceding 1990. This suggests that long-term changes in weather might have caused the change in moult timing. In the absence of the variable year, the North Atlantic Oscillating (NAO) index, averaged over September–October, significantly correlated with timing of moult. However, this was a weaker relationship than that of year and timing of moult. Apparently, year correlates better with relevant weather parameters than NAO. Because moult speed at the staging areas has not changed from 1978 to 2011, the birds must have started moult earlier. Advanced breeding has been shown to have occurred in several bird species breeding in northern temperate latitudes. Golden Plovers start to moult during breeding, and therefore we think that the advancement of moult has been the result of an earlier start of breeding and not of changes in agricultural practice in The Netherlands.