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A photo of a Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus)
Piping Plover

Piping Plover

Charadrius melodus

The Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus) is a diminutive shorebird, comparable in size to a sparrow, with a robust build and a large, rounded head. Its plumage is a muted sand color, blending seamlessly with its beach habitat. The adult Plover sports yellow-orange legs and, during the breeding season, males are distinguished by a black band across the forehead and a black stripe along the breast line, which is typically more pronounced than in females.

Identification Tips

To identify the Piping Plover, look for its short, stout bill and yellow-orange legs. The male's black forehead band and breast stripe are key features during the breeding season. When not breeding, these black bands are less conspicuous. The bird's sand-colored plumage provides excellent camouflage against the open beach.

Habitat

The Piping Plover frequents coastal sand and gravel beaches, as well as the shores of the Great Lakes. It prefers high, dry sections away from water and is rarely seen away from sandy or rocky shores.

Distribution

This shorebird breeds along the Atlantic coast, the Great Lakes, and in the mid-west of Canada and the United States. It migrates to the Gulf of Mexico, the southern Atlantic coast of the U.S., and the Caribbean for wintering.

Behaviour

The Piping Plover is known for its quick, sporadic runs across the beach, followed by sudden stops. It is a disturbance-dependent species, requiring periodic flooding to maintain its open sand habitat. The bird's breeding behavior includes elaborate courtship displays and the creation of multiple nest scrapes by the male.

Song & Calls

The Piping Plover's call is a soft, plaintive whistle, often heard before the bird is seen. Its alarm call is a gentle "pee-werp," with the second syllable lower in pitch.

Breeding

Breeding begins in mid-March, with males establishing territories and performing courtship rituals. Nests are scrapes in the sand, often decorated with shells and debris for camouflage. Both parents share incubation duties, with chicks hatching synchronously and able to walk within hours.

Similar Species

The Piping Plover can be confused with other small plovers, but its breeding plumage and behaviors are distinctive.

Diet and Feeding

Piping Plovers forage for insects, marine worms, and crustaceans along the high tide wrack zone and water's edge.

Conservation Status

The Piping Plover is considered Near Threatened globally and Vulnerable in some regions. It faces threats from habitat loss, human disturbance, and predation. Conservation efforts include habitat protection and management to enhance breeding success.

Climate Change

Climate change poses complex challenges for the Piping Plover, affecting both its aquatic and terrestrial habitats. Rising sand temperatures, water level changes in inland habitats, and sea level rise along coastal areas all impact the Plover's breeding and foraging grounds.

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