What’s a Piping Plover?
The Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus melodus) is a small shorebird that nests and raises its young on Atlantic Coast beaches from Newfoundland and Labrador to North Carolina, US. Piping Plovers are beach-dependent species. They cannot survive without safe, healthy beach habitat to breed, rest and feed. They are migratory birds that travel back and forth annually between their northern breeding grounds and southern wintering grounds along the southeastern US coast and The Caribbean.
This map shows beaches identified as critical habitat for Piping Plover. Critical habitat sites supported at least one breeding Piping Plover pair between 1991-2006. Map courtesy of Environment Canada. The Piping Plover is part of a diverse family of shorebirds (Charadriidae) that includes other plover species that breed on beaches and are threatened or endangered, like the Western Snowy Plover and the Hooded Plover. A different subspecies of Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus circumcinctus) – also endangered in Canada – breeds along inland river banks and shores of lakes and playa lakes in the US Great Plains, Canadian Prairies, and Great Lakes.
Masters of camouflage
Piping Plovers are incredibly adapted to the shifting sands of Atlantic Coast beaches. Their sand-coloured upperparts and speckled eggs are perfect camouflage for the beach. Plovers also use stealth to evade predators and people. For this reason, many beach goers have a hard time seeing Piping Plovers and sometimes get too close and scare plover families. The easiest way to avoid disturbing Piping Plovers is by staying on the wet sand and keeping pets leashed while visiting a plover-nesting beach.
Most Piping Plovers begin to arrive on our beaches in April. They nest and raise their young from May to August. Plover Moms and Dads work 24/7 to keep their eggs and chicks warm and protected. Explore their breeding activities below. Piping Plovers hide their nests on open dry sand above the high tide mark. Females lay four eggs directly on the sand – often without any cover. Male and female work together to incubate and protect the eggs for four weeks. Nesting Piping Plovers are vulnerable to disturbance from people and pets. You can help by walking on the wet sand and staying away from signs marking plover nesting areas.
Watch for signs on beaches marking sensitive nesting areas and tell others. Upon hatching, the tiny chicks are about the weight of two pennies. Unlike some baby birds, plover chicks feed themselves. Plover parents protect their chicks from predators, people and pets until chicks are fledged or able to fly. Parents also keep their young chicks warm underneath their belly. Adult plovers start their migration south once they are finished breeding. Adult females often begin migration before males. Fledgling plovers must feed, gain strength, rest, and practice flying before they are ready to migrate south. Fledgling plovers often feed with other shorebirds on the beach in August and September.