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Piping Plover

Piping Plover - Breeding Plumage

Larry Hennessy

One of the most familiar shorebirds, the piping plover is also one of the most endangered. Though it regularly gets protection for nesting areas and media campaigns because of its rarity, this small shorebird is a nervous nester and vulnerable to disturbances that can disrupt brooding parents and young chicks.

Common Name:

Piping Plover

Scientific Name:

Charadrius melodus

Appearance:

  • Bill: Short, orange, black tip
  • Size: 7.25 inches long with 15-inch wingspan, stocky body
  • Colors: Buff, white, black, orange
  • Markings: Genders are similar with a buff head, dark eyes and a black band separating the head from the white forehead. Chin, chest, abdomen and undertail coverts are plain white broken by a narrow black chest band that may be incomplete and is typically thicker at the shoulders. The back and wings are buff and a white wing stripe is visible in flight. A white rump and tail stripe with a black tip is also visible in flight. Legs and feet are orange. Winter plumage is plainer buff.

Foods:

Insects, larvae, crustaceans

Habitat and Migration:

Piping plovers are rare but can be found in sandy habitats such as beaches, mudflats and river sandbars in New England and the mid-Atlantic states and along the Atlantic coast of Canada in the summer. Inland summer populations can be found along the Great Lakes and in the southern portions of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and North Dakota. In winter, these birds migrate to the southern coast of the United States from South Carolina to Texas and along the eastern coast of Mexico.

Vocalizations:

Piping plovers have a clear, ringing two-tone “peee-ip” call and a moderately spaced “pip-pip-pip-pip-pip” call. They are generally quieter during the nesting season but can become gregarious after chicks have hatched.

Behavior:

While feeding, piping plovers will make nervous runs toward the waterline but will stop abruptly to probe the sand for food. They can be territorial when nesting, but will join mixed flocks with other shorebirds after the nesting season.

Reproduction:

Piping plovers are monogamous birds and both parents will share incubation duties for 27 days until their single brood of 3-4 eggs hatches. The precocial young will remain with their parents for 20-35 days as they learn to forage. Both nests and young chicks are vulnerable to predators, high tide storms and human disturbances.

Attracting Piping Plovers:

Piping plovers are not backyard birds but birders can spot these shorebirds on the upper parts of sandy beaches within the birds' range. Because these birds are endangered, they should not be disturbed and any nests should be reported to local wildlife or conservation officials for suitable protection and monitoring.

Similar Birds:

  • Snowy Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus)
  • Semipalmated Plover (Charadrius semipalmatus)
  • Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius)
  • Wilson’s Plover (Charadrius wilsonia)

Photo – Piping Plover – Breeding Plumage © Larry Hennessy
Photo – Piping Plover Chick © Marcin Stawowczyk
Photo – Piping Plover – Winter Plumage © Michael Woodruff

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