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Piping Plover

Scientific name: Charadrius melodus
IUCN designation: Near Threatened

Canadian subspecies: Charadrius melodus circumcinctus (Great Lakes and Prairies) 
                                  Charadrius melodus melodus (Eastern Canada)
SARA designation: Endangered (both)
COSEWIC designation: Endangered (both)

Image of a Piping Plover on a beach

The Piping Plover is a small-sized shorebird, whose plumage acts as camouflage as it scurries along sandy and pebble beaches of lakes, rivers, and oceans1. The Piping Plover is typically 15-18 cm (6-7 in) in length and has a wingspan of 38 cm (15 in)1,2. Throughout the year, the plumage of Piping Plovers is greyish brown with white underparts. During breeding season, it has a black collar, black crown stripe, and a black tip on its orange bill. During the non-breeding season, the bill turns completely black and the black collar fades1. Its bright orange legs distinguish the Piping Plover from other plovers3.

Piping Plovers breed in three locations: the North American Atlantic coast, around the Great Lakes, and at lakes in the Northern Great Plains of the US/the Canadian Prairies4. Compared to the average shorebird, Piping Plovers migrate relatively short distances to their wintering areas in the coastal US, the eastern Mexico coast and on the islands of the Caribbean2,5.

The Piping Plover population is in decline mainly due to the habitat destruction caused by human activity on their breeding grounds. More specifically, it is the development on local shores, pedestrians, pets, and vehicles that harm nests and young chicks. The presence of humans provokes adults to abandon their chicks. Pets can prey upon the birds. Vehicles, such as trucks and ATVs, can crush the birds and nests because they are difficult to spot5,6.

To recover the Piping Plover population, cooperation amongst the beachgoers, beach communities, governmental, and non-governmental conservation groups is required. Efforts such as marking nesting areas on these beaches as restricted and having volunteers serve as “local guardians” for the Plovers have successfully increased populations and will continue to do so7.

To learn more, visit our Piping Plover StoryMap or the links below!

  1. The Cornell Lab: All About Birds – Piping Plover
  2. U.S. Fish & Wildlife – Piping Plover
  3. eBird – Piping Plover
  4. Nature Saskatchewan – Piping Plover Brochure
  5. Species at Risk Act – Piping plover (Charadrius melodus melodus): recovery strategy 2012
  6. Government of Canada – Piping plover in eastern Canada: fact sheet
  7. Birds Canada – Space to Roost Project Makes a Difference for Shorebirds in NS

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