The Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus) is a small plover.
The Piping Plover is a sand-colored, sparrow-sized shorebird that nests and feeds along coastal sand and gravel beaches. The adult has yellow- orange legs, a black band across the forehead from eye to eye, and a black ring around the neck during the breeding season. It runs in short starts and stops. It is difficult to see when standing still as it blends well with open, sandy beach habitats. Males and Females are difficult, if not imposible to tell apart. During the breeding season the males generally have a thicker black band around the neck while females have a thinner band.
There are 2 subspecies of Piping Plovers the eastern population known as Charadrius melodus melodus and the mid-west population known as Charadrius melodus circumcinctus. The bird's name is derived from its plaintive bell-like whistles which are often heard before the bird is visible.
Their breeding habitat is beaches or sand flats on the Atlantic coast, the shores of the Great Lakes and in the mid-west of Canada and the United States. They nest on sandy or gravel beaches or sandbars. These shorebirds forage for food on beaches, usually by sight, moving across the beaches in short bursts. Generally, Piping Plovers will forage for food around the high tide "wrack line" and along the waters edge. They mainly eat insects, marine worms and crustaceans.
Size: Length: 63/4 to 71/4 in. (17-18 cm); Wing Span: 18 to 183/4 in. (45-47 cm); Weight: 43 to 63 g
Structure: Chunky with large rounded head, short thick neck; stuby bill
Behavior: Run-stop-pluck feeding style; sandy beaches, often in high, dry sectinos away from water
Status: uncommon and local; globally threatened and endangered
Endangered or Protected Species?
The piping plover is not endangered in all of its habitats. It has been listed as "endangered" in the Great Lakes region and "threatened" in the remainder of its range in the United States since 1986, which resulted in the permanent closing of Moonstone Beach in South Kingston, Rhode Island. While it is federally threatened, the Piping Plover has been listed as state endangered in many, if not all, of the states it breeds in. Its range has reduced recently due to habitat loss and human activity near nesting sites (citation needed). Some critical nesting habitat is now protected. Populations have since significantly increased, but the species remains in serious danger. Current conservation strategies include identification and preservation of known nesting sites, public education, and limiting free-ranging cats and dogs near breeding pairs.
In coastal areas such as Cape Cod, Long Island, and most recently, Cape Hatteras National Seashore in the Outer Banks (OBX) of North Carolina, beach access to pedestrians and Off Road Vehicles (ORVs), has been prohibited near nesting piping plovers - a cause of some conflict over the years - as a result of management plans and lawsuits filed by environmental organizations such as the National Audubon Society and the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC). In addition to its expansive beaches and excellent opportunities for wildlife observation, the OBX of North Carolina is considered by many to have the best surf-fishing on the east coast of the United States. The OBX economy has been largely supported by tourism generated by the ability of fishing enthusiasts to access remote parts of OBX beaches by ORV. Recently increased human access restrictions to areas near Hatteras Village, Ocracoke Island, and other areas within the Cape Hatteras National Seashore in the name of saving the Piping Plover have been viewed as excessive and are being opposed by the Outer Banks Preservation Association, the Hatteras Island Fishing Militia, and numerous other organizations representing the rights of local residents, businesses, and recreational tourists. Opponents to the increased access restrictions question the cause-effect relationship between human presence and bird depopulation purported by environmental groups and also question if Piping Plover populations have increased where such restrictions have been increased elsewhere .
In Eastern Canada, the Piping Plover is only found on coastal beaches. In 1985 it was declared an endangered species by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.
Migration & Breeding
Piping Plovers are migratory in northern areas and winter on the coasts of the Gulf of Mexico, the southern Atlantic coast of the United States and the West Indies. They migrate north beginning in mid-March. Their breeding grounds extend from southern Newfoundland south to the northern parts of South Carolina. They begin mating and nesting on the beach in mid-April. Most first time nest attempts in each breeding season are 4 egg nests. Females lay 1 egg every other day. Second or third nesting attempts many times have three or two eggs. Incubation of the nest is shared by both the male and the female. Incubation is generally 27 days and eggs usually all hatch on the same day. Many places use exclosures, round turkey wire cages with screened top, to protect the nests from predators during incubation. These allow the adults to move in and out but stop predators from getting to the eggs. When the chicks hatch many areas will put up snow fencing to restrict driving and pets for the safety of the chicks.
Piping Plover chick at two weeks.
After a chick hatches it is able to feed within hours. The adults role is then to protect them from the elements by brooding them. They also alert them to any danger. Adults will feign a broken wing, "broken wing display", drawing attention to itself and away from the chicks when a predator may be threatening the chicks safety. A major defence mechanism in the chicks is their ability to blend in with the sand, this has led to many accedental deaths of chicks from ORV's and the eventual restrictions placed on traffic in areas with chicks. It takes about 30 days before a chick achieves flight capability. They must be able to fly at least 50 yards before they can be considered as fledglings.
Migration south begins in August for some adults and fledglings, by mid-September most Piping Plovers have headed south for winter.
An inconspicuous bird of dry sandy beaches. Breeds in open sand, gravel, or shell-strewn beaches and alkali flats. Nest site is typically near small clumps of grass, drift, or other windbreak. In winter prefers sand beaches and mudflats. Migrants seldom seen inland but occasionally show up at lake shores, river bars, or alkali flats. Forages visually in typical plover fasion, employing and run-stop-scan technique. Captures prey by leaning forward and picking at surface. Also employs a "foot-tremble" feeding method, causing prey to move and become more conspicuous. Feeds by day and night. Eats a wide variety of aquatic marine worms, insects, mollusks, and crustaceans. Seldom found in large numbers except at a few favored wintering or staging sites, where numbers sometimes reach 100 or more. More typically seen in pairs or in groups of 3 or 4. When approached, more often runs than flys.
Flight call is a soft, whistled peep given by standing and flying birds. Frequently heard alarm call is a soft pee-werp, which the second syllable lower pitched. Male's display song is a repeated, high-pitched pirp, pirp, pirp, pirp, pirp... or more drawn-out pooeep, pooeep, pooeep..., often repeated 40 or more times per flight. Display flight is often in the shape of a figure eight