This plover is smaller and more compact than European golden plover (Pluvialis apricaria). It has a striking whitish supercilium in all plumages and has plain wings in flight. Adults in summer are unmistakable, with a chestnut breast bordered above with white, black belly and warm brown back. The legs are yellow, and the short bill is black. As with the phalaropes, the female is brighter than the male. Winter birds lack the rich underpart colouration, apart from the white breast line, and are greyer above. Young birds are similar but have a scaly appearance to their backs.