Piping Plover

Charadrius melodus

(c) Sidney Maddock
  • CHARADRIIDAE
  • Plovers
  • Charadriiformes
  • Chorlitejo picocorto
  • Pluvier siffleur
Introduction
The Piping Plover is a small, pale shorebird that inhabits beaches, shorelines, and dry lakebeds. It is threatened or endangered throughout its relatively small range. Many beach-goers are familiar with the fencing and warning signs that have been erected around breeding sites critical to the recovery of this species.
(c) Sidney Maddock
Bird Sounds
Lang Elliot
Appearance Description
The Piping Plover is a small shorebird, measuring about 7 inches in length, and weighing only about 2 ounces. The species' pale tan upper parts help it to blend with its sandy habitat. The birds under parts are white, and the legs are yellow-orange. The plover's short bill is orange with a black tip during the breeding season, but entirely black during non-breeding months. In breeding season the birds sport a black forehead bar and a thin, black collar that is often discontinuous. Males and females have similar plumages.
Range Map
Courtesy Kenn Kaufman
Range Distribution
Unlike most shorebirds the Piping Plover inhabits just one continent: North America. Once commonly seen in all suitable shoreline habitat east of the Rocky Mountains, the Piping Plover now has a patchy distribution within three small breeding populations in Canada and the United States: the northern Great Plains, around two of the Great Lakes, and along a limited stretch of the Atlantic coast. It winters along the coasts of the southeastern U.S., northeastern Mexico, and the northern Caribbean.
Habitat
The Piping Plover nests and feeds on sandy beaches near water including; sandbars in rivers, sand flats near alkali lakes, and Atlantic Ocean beaches. It winters on coastal tidal flats and beaches.
Feeding
The Piping Plover feeds on insects and invertebrates along the waterline. Like other plovers this species runs a few feet and then stops, scans, and pecks at the prey it locates. It also hunts for insects on higher beach near nest site areas.
Reproduction
The male Piping Plover defends a territory on an open beach, where he performs aerial displays to attract a female. New pairs are usually formed every year. The male then creates a shallow nest scrape near a clump of vegetation, a log, or some other object. This species may also nest in association with tern colonies. Up to four eggs are tended and incubated by both parents for several weeks. The downy young leave the nest and feed only hours after hatching.
Migration
The Piping Plover is not often seen during migration; this species may move to its wintering grounds in one overnight flight.
  • 6,410
  • 6,410
  • Endangered and Threatened
  • Highest continental concern
Population Status Trends
Piping Plover populations declined primarily as a result of unrestricted hunting in the 1800s then rebounded following the effects of legislative protection from the passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918. However, after World War II the rapid development of coastal areas and the general increase in beach-oriented recreation resulted in significant Piping Plover population declines throughout its coastal range. It wasn't until the listing of the Piping Plover under the Endangered Species Act in 1986 that species again began a trend of recovery. Intensive conservation efforts have resulted in stabilized and slowly increasing populations in some regions.
Conservation Issues
Habitat destruction, human disturbance, and predation continue to be the primary threats to Piping Plovers. Nests and young can be destroyed by unrestricted off-road vehicles, beach-goers, and unleashed pets. Inland plover populations can be threatened by water management practices on river systems; the release of water from dammed areas may flood nests and young and the redistribution of water during drought periods may disrupt nesting and feeding. Conservation and economic interests need to be explored and balanced carefully. In 1986, approximately 126 pairs of Piping Plovers nested in Massachusetts; after years of focused conservation efforts, by 2003, an estimated 530 pairs nested there. Management and protection of coastal habitats that take both recreation and wildlife into account is vital in order to further increase Piping Plover populations.
What You Can Do

Participate in programs that survey, monitor, and protect beach-nesting birds and their habitats.

Educate beach-goers and coastal community groups about the plight of Piping Plovers and the efforts to protect their nesting areas.

Find out about actions you can take including Audubon programs and activities.

More Information
National Audubon Society. 2002. Piping Plover. Bird Conservation, Audubon WatchList.
 
Birdlife International. 2006. Piping Plover – Birdlife Species Fact Sheet
 
Fish and Wildlife – Piping Plover

Learn more about this species and other birds through these resources.
Natural History References
Haig, S.M. 1992. Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus). In The Birds of North America, No. 2 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). Philadelphia: The Academy of Natural Sciences; Washington, D.C: The American Ornithologists' Union.
 
Hecker, S. 2006. Piping Plover Fact Sheet. National Audubon Society, Audubon Coastal Bird Conservation Program.
 
Kaufman, Kenn. 1996. Lives of North American Birds. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York.
 
Conservation Status References
Haig, S.M. 1992. Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus). In The Birds of North America, No. 2 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). Philadelphia: The Academy of Natural Sciences; Washington, D.C: The American Ornithologists' Union.
 
Hecker, S. 2006. Piping Plover Fact Sheet. National Audubon Society, Audubon Coastal Bird Conservation Program.
 
Kaufman, Kenn. 1996. Lives of North American Birds. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York.