Named for its melodic mating call, the piping plover (Charadrius melodus) is a small shorebird, one of several plovers in the Americas that shows a single black neck-band in breeding plumage. Its combination of a short and stout bill, pale upperparts and orange legs are key to its identification.
Because they need a very specific habitat to thrive, piping plovers are an indicator species for barrier beaches. How much piping plovers do or do not attempt to nest in an area reveals changes in the habitat over time, which could impact additional nesting species like sea turtles and other shorebirds.
Piping plovers eat freshwater and marine invertebrates that have been washed up on shore, as well as other invertebrates. This may include marine worms, insects (fly larvae and beetles), crustaceans, mollusks and other small marine animals and their eggs.
As of 2001, it is estimated that there are no more than 3,000 breeding pairs of piping plovers across the U.S. and Canada.
Habitat & Range
Piping plovers breed mostly along the Atlantic coast, from North Carolina northward to eastern Canada and the French Islands of Saint Pierre and Miquelon. A second population breeds inland along rivers and wetlands of the northern Great Plains, from Nebraska to the southern Prairie Provinces, as well as portions of the western Great Lakes in the U.S. and western Ontario. During winter months, most individuals occur on coastal beaches, sandflats and mudflats from the Carolinas to Mexico’s Yucatan, with a very few dispersed through the Bahamas and West Indies.
Because their inconspicuous sand-colored plumage makes them more difficult to see on the ground than if they flew and exposed their bright white underbody, when they move, piping plovers often walk or run rather than fly. Prior to breeding and at the beginning of courtship, males perform an elaborate flight display over breeding territories in order to advertise their availability to females. The males use deep, slow wingbeats and an alternating tilting of the body from side to side that produces a fluttering flight, making the bird more conspicuous than in normal flight.
Some piping plovers may breed the first spring after they hatch. Some birds do not obtain a mate each year, but most piping plovers breed every year.
Mating Season: Birds arrive on breeding sites in early spring. Nesting and egg-laying begin in late April and early May, with young fledged by late August or very early September.
Incubation: Both sexes incubate the eggs for around 28 days.
Clutch Size: Generally 3 to 4 eggs, but rarely as many as 5 eggs per nest.