Sexual size dimorphism (SSD) among adults is commonly observed in animals and is considered to be adaptive. However, the ontogenic emergence of SSD, i.e. the timing of divergence in body size between males and females, has only recently received attention. It is widely acknowledged that the ontogeny of SSD may differ between species, but it remains unclear how variable the ontogeny of SSD is within species. Kentish Plovers Charadrius alexandrinus and Snowy Plovers C. nivosus are closely related wader species that exhibit similar, moderate (c. 4%), male-biased adult SSD. To assess when SSD emerges we recorded tarsus length variation among 759 offspring in four populations of these species. Tarsus length of chicks was measured on the day of hatching and up to three times on recapture before fledging. In one population (Mexico, Snowy Plovers), males and females differed in size from the day of hatching, whereas growth rates differed between the sexes in two populations (Turkey and United Arab Emirates, both Kentish Plovers). In contrast, a fourth population (Cape Verde, Kentish Plovers) showed no significant SSD in juveniles. Our results suggest that adult SSD can emerge at different stages of development (prenatal, postnatal and post-juvenile) in different populations of the same species. We discuss the proximate mechanisms that may underlie these developmental differences.