- Federal Status: Threatened
- FL Status: Federally-designated Threatened
- FNAI Ranks: G3/S2 (Globally: Rare/State: Imperiled)
- IUCN Status: NT (Near Threatened)
The piping plover is a small shorebird, measuring up to 7.25 inches (18.4 centimeters) in length with a wingspan of 14-15.5 inches (35.6-39.4 centimeters) (Alsop 2002). This species has a white belly, pale grayish upperparts, bright yellow-orange legs, and a small bi-colored bill. Breeding piping plovers have a black stripe across their forehead and a dark ring partially surrounding their neck (Florida Natural Areas Inventory 2001).
The diet of the piping plover primarily consists of insects, crustaceans, and marine worms (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service 2011).
Piping plovers do not breed in Florida but spend a large portion of their year “wintering” here. Pairs of piping plovers arrive at breeding grounds from southern Canada to Nebraska starting in late March and early April (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service 2011). In courtship, the male flies over his territory while tilting side to side and performing deep, slow wing beats. After courtship, the breeding pair forms a nest by scraping a depression in the sand, sometimes using pebbles to line the nest. Nests with a pebble lining can take five to ten days to construct, while a nest without pebbles can be constructed in a couple of hours (Elliott-Smith and Haig 2004). Nesting occurs in May and June. Females lay up to four eggs (one egg every other day) that are incubated for 31 days (New York Department of Environmental Conservation, n.d.). The young are precocious (require very little assistance). Young are able to forage with their parents soon after hatching, and fledge at 30 days old (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service 2011).
Piping plovers inhabit sandy beaches, sand flats, and mudflats along coastal areas (Florida Natural Areas Inventory 2001). The species can be found along Gulf Coast states and Mexico, along the Atlantic Coast from Florida to Newfoundland, and west to northern Michigan and Wisconsin. The nesting range extends from southern Canada to Nebraska (Florida Natural Areas Inventory 2001).
The main threat to piping plovers is habitat loss. Development on beaches has reduced the amount of suitable wintering areas available. Disturbance by humans and domestic animals forces wintering and migrating birds to increase their energy expenditure, and can also cause breeding plovers to abandon nests and young. Other threats include predation from raccoons, skunks, and foxes (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service 2011).
Conservation and Management
The piping plover is protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act. It is also protected as a Threatened species by the Federal Endangered Species Act and as a Federally-designated Threatened species by Florida’s Endangered and Threatened Species Rule. Piping plovers are protected in Florida through management of wintering grounds. Frequent disturbance of these migrants has been shown to reduce their survival rates, so wintering areas used by piping plovers may be posted with signs to protect them from disturbance.
Alsop, F. J. (2002). Birds of Florida. New York, NY: Dorling Kindersley Inc. 400pp
Elliott-Smith, E., and S. M. Haig. 2004. Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online.
Florida Natural Areas Inventory. 2001. Field guide to the rare animals of Florida. http://www.fnai.org/FieldGuide/pdf/Charadrius_melodus.PDF
New York Department of Environmental Conservation. (n.d.). Piping Plover Fact Sheet. Retrieved July 26, 2011 : http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/7086.html
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. (2011, June 3). Overview of Biology and Threats. Retrieved July 27, 2011, from Northeast Region: http://www.fws.gov/northeast/pipingplover/overview.html