The Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus) is a sparrow-sized bird named for its distinct and highly varied piping vocalizations. The diminutive shorebirds are well-camouflaged, mirroring coastal hues of the surrounding shoreline, of weathered driftwood and sandy beaches. Piping Plovers sport a black or brown crescent moon-shaped headband and wider black or brown collar band. Their black-tipped orange bills are darker in winter, more brilliant in summer, and slender yellow-orange legs and teeny-taloned toes propel them around the beach with lightning speed.
Piping Plover male, left, female right
The difference between a male and female Piping Plover is usually easy to spot. The female’s headband is typically paler and her shoulder collar less pronounced however, males with the lightest markings look similar to females with the darkest markings.
Piping Plovers forage along the shoreline, just as do Sandpipers, and the two are often confused. They eat a wide variety of invertebrates including insects, marine worms, tiny mollusks and crustaceans.
Chick eating a marine worm
Piping Plovers nest on beaches, the same beaches that are popular with people. Their nests, eggs, and chicks are so well-camouflaged that it is easy for people and pets to step on them before they are even aware of their presence.
Well-camouflaged chicks in the sand
Shoreline development, off road vehicles, free roaming cats and dogs, crows, and seagulls have contributed to the decline of the Piping Plover. Currently, there are only about 8,000 individuals. Critical Piping Plover breeding habitats are protected to help the birds successfully nest and rear chicks to fledge.
The Piping Plover is federally listed as Endangered in the Great Lakes region and as Threatened in the Atlantic Coast region and Great Plains; and is also listed as Endangered in Canada. Threatened species of wildlife share the exact same protections as Endangered species.
In 2016, a pair of Piping Plovers arrived at Good Harbor Beach, quite possibly, the first nesting pair in nearly a century. A loosely formed bunch of volunteers began watching over the Plovers and subsequently formed the Piping Plover Ambassador group. We provide full coverage at Good Harbor Beach, monitoring the Plovers and sharing information with beachgoers about our most vulnerable summer beach residents.
Piping Plover 36-day-old fledgling
Piping Plover chicks are considered fully fledged at about 5 weeks, or 35-36 days. The fledglings will continue to forage and sleep at Cape Ann beaches for approximately one to two weeks more, building their fat reserves for the southward migration. It is thought that Cape Ann Piping Plovers first travel to the barrier beaches of the North Carolina coastline before then heading to barrier beaches of Caribbean islands.
Dad snuggles – Piping Plover fathers are equal partners in rearing chicks
You, too, can be excellent Piping Plover stewards. If you see Piping Plovers on the beach, please give them lots and lots of space. They wander far outside of denoted restricted areas, from the dunes to the shoreline. When Plovers are at the shoreline and in the tide pools, they are usually foraging. Undisturbed feeding allows the birds to grow strong and to migrate successfully. Please do not follow the birds while they are feeding in hopes to get a close up with your cell phone.
Dogs are not permitted at Good Harbor Beach at any time of day or night from March 1st through September 30th. Kites, drones, and para gliders are not permitted within 650 feet of Piping Plovers. Crows and seagulls eat Piping Plover eggs and chicks. Please pick up trash and do not bury it in the sand.
Thank you for helping to protect Cape Ann’s Piping Plovers!
The Piping Plover Film Project is told through the lens of a remarkable pair of Piping Plovers. Every aspect of the bird’s life story is documented, from courtship to nesting to chick-rearing to fledgling.
I began documenting the Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers in May of 2016. What began as a quick trip to the beach to capture a few moments of footage of the recently arrived Plovers, for an entirely different project about Cape Ann wildlife, became, over time, the greatly expanded project that it is today. From that very first visit, it was apparent the birds were struggling under the pressures of human and dog disturbance.
As are most regions along the length of the Eastern Seaboard, the area north of Boston lies within a largely unrestricted north-south corridor for migratory species of birds and butterflies. Birds, butterflies, and other insects travel along the Atlantic Flyway without being impeded by large mountain ranges to cross. There is great beauty to be found in this great movement of life
Birds help us better understand the world around us. The majority of bird species nests far away from human eyes, in the Arctic, or high up in a leafy tree, where we will never see their beautiful story. We are sublimely fortunate for the opportunity to witness the life story of the Piping Plover as it unfolds along the coast of Massachusetts.
The film footage, photos, and journals have provided the basis for the forthcoming film and children’s book about Atlantic Coast Piping Plovers. While the film is in production, I have created a lecture program and am offering that freely to our community. Please see below for a synopsis of the program and links to hundreds of stories about the threatened Piping Plover.
Piping Plover Short Films and ShortShorts
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Vote for Chicks on the Half Shell! Nesting shorebirds need safe habitat. Please share and vote to continue protections afforded under the Endangered Species Act.
What’s happening in the clip below? Within hours after hatching, tiny marshmallow-sized Piping Plover chicks leave the nest and begin foraging on their own. They still need Mom and Dad for thermo-snuggling and for protection. In this clip you can hear Dad Plover piping loudly, commanding the chick to take cover, and the day-old chick’s barely audible peeps in response.
See more shorts and short shorts at the end of the page –
Life Story of the Piping Plover
From courtship to nesting to fledging, every aspect of the Piping Plover’s life story is presented. We’ll also cover the current status of the bird’s population, learn about where Piping Plovers spend the winter, and how communities can work together to help Piping Plovers survive even the busiest of beaches. Through Kim Smith’s photo journal work on the threatened Piping Plover, we gain a better understanding of how best to help this tiniest, but most resilient, of shorebirds as it breeds and migrates along the Atlantic Coast.
For more information about presenting, please contact Kim Smith at email@example.com
Why are there five chicks in this photo?
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Featured Story (see many more articles posted below and organized chronologically)
If you would like to read more about Piping Plovers, the following is a (partial) list of several hundred articles and posts from April 2016 to the present. I haven’t yet organized the posts from May 2019 through February 2020 – a task in progress!