Wildlife: Piping Plover
The Piping Plover is a small, pale shorebird that inhabits beaches, shorelines, and dry lakebeds. It is threatened or endangered throughout its relatively small range. This small shorebird measures about 7 inches in length, and weighs only about 2 ounces. The species' pale tan upper parts help it to blend with its sandy habitat. The birds under parts are white, and the legs are yellow-orange. The plover's short bill is orange with a black tip during the breeding season, but entirely black during non-breeding months. In breeding season the birds sport a black forehead bar and a thin, black collar that is often discontinuous. Males and females have similar plumages.
Range & Distribution: Once commonly seen in all suitable shoreline habitat east of the Rocky Mountains, the Piping Plover now has a patchy distribution within three small breeding populations in Canada and the United States: the northern Great Plains, around two of the Great Lakes, and along a limited stretch of the Atlantic coast. It winters along the coasts of the southeastern U.S., northeastern Mexico, and the northern Caribbean.
Habitat: The Piping Plover nests and feeds on sandy beaches near water including; sandbars in rivers, sand flats near alkali lakes, and Atlantic Ocean beaches. It winters on coastal tidal flats and beaches.
Diet: The Piping Plover feeds on insects and invertebrates along the waterline. Like other plovers this species runs a few feet and then stops, scans, and pecks at the prey it locates. It also hunts for insects on higher beach near nest site areas.
Conservation Status: Piping Plover populations declined primarily as a result of unrestricted hunting in the 1800s then rebounded following the effects of legislative protection from the passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918. However, after World War II the rapid development of coastal areas and the general increase in beach-oriented recreation resulted in significant Piping Plover population declines throughout its coastal range. It wasn't until the listing of the Piping Plover under the Endangered Species Act in 1986 that the species again began a trend of recovery. Intensive conservation efforts have resulted in stabilized and slowly increasing populations in some regions.
Habitat destruction, human disturbance, and predation continue to be the primary threats to Piping Plovers. Nests and young can be destroyed by unrestricted off-road vehicles, beach-goers, and unleashed pets. Conservation and economic interests need to be explored and balanced carefully. In 1986, approximately 126 pairs of Piping Plovers nested in Massachusetts; after years of focused conservation efforts, by 2003, an estimated 530 pairs nested there. Management and protection of coastal habitats that take both recreation and wildlife into account is vital in order to further increase Piping Plover populations.
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Piping Plover images: © Walker Golder
In June 2012, Congressman Walter Jones (R, NC-3) and North Carolina Senators Kay Hagan and Richard Burr have introduced damaging legislation that seeks to overturn the balanced, reasonable and responsible regulation developed by the National Park Service in favor of unlimited off-road vehicles on Cape Hatteras National Seashore beaches regardless of other visitors and wildlife. Read about the new legislation here.