Piping Plover Journal

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Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus)

The piping plover is a small shorebird named for its mellow, melodious whistle, a clear peep,peep, peep peep-lo. Compactly built with a short bill, large eyes and rounded head, this sand-colored plover has bright orange legs and a single black breast band. Once fairly common along Atlantic coast beaches, Great Lakes beaches and interior river sandbars, the piping plover is now threatened or endangered throughout its entire range where breeding habitat has been replaced with shoreline development and recreation. People, vehicles, and dogs cause adult plovers to desert their nests, exposing eggs or chicks to the hot sun, cold wind, and predators like raccoons, skunks, foxes and gulls. The western snowy plover, on the Pacific coast, is suffering the same plight.

Piping plovers depend on camouflage for survival. Virtually invisible in their habitat, they play a game of now you see me now you don't.? The adult is hard to spot until it moves, and the nest, a slight hollow in the sand lined with pebbles and bits of broken shell, is even more difficult to see. Their eggs' buff color and speckled pattern match the sand exactly. After 26-28 days of incubation by both adults, 3-4 cryptically colored chicks hatch, dry off, and are active within hours. For the first several weeks, they follow their parents around and snuggle close to them until they are able to maintain their own body temperature.

When feeding, both adult and young piping plovers run rapidly along the water's edge, then stop to pick up fly larvae, beetles, crustaceans, mollusks and other invertebrates. They are most often seen running in short starts and stops, patrolling the beach, always alert for any movement.

Many agencies are running public information campaigns to raise awareness about this bird's endangered status. We need to pay attention and respect areas where plovers are nesting. Please support set-aside areas and learn to share the beach with this sweet shorebird. We don't want to look away and lose sight of them forever.

artwork by John Sill © 2003 

text by Kara Jean Hagedorn

Tags: birds,