Fact Sheet

Threats to Piping Plovers

Early 20th century accounts indicate that shorebird harvesting for the millinery (hat-making) trade was the cause of the first known major decline of piping plovers. The shorebird rebounded briefly after the passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918, but the surge in development and recreational usage of beaches after World War II cut recovery short. Since the early 20th century, many factors contributed to a continued decline of the species. Habitat destruction, human disturbance of nesting and wintering birds, and excessive predation were among the main factors affecting the species when it was listed under the ESA in 1985. At the time of listing, there were fewer than 2,500 breeding pairs estimated in the U.S. and Canada.

Human-caused habitat destruction remains the greatest threat facing piping plovers today. Not only do coastal development and recreation destroy beach habitat directly, but local shore development also leads to stray food that increases the number of predators, like foxes, raccoons and skunks. Unrestricted off-road vehicles, pedestrians and pets are often responsible for exposing nesting chicks and even crushing nests.

Recovery plans for piping plovers emphasize habitat protection and enhancement as major factors nationwide. This could include maintaining natural coastal formation processes, physically manipulating habitat sites, controlling predators, minimizing human disturbance and controlling off-road vehicle access.

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