USFWS: Piping Plover Fact Sheet


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In the 19th century, piping plovers were hunted for their feathers, which were used to make fashionable ladies’ hats.


Thanks to their sand-colored plumage and stop-and-go dashes across dunes, piping plovers are usually identified by their bell-like whistles before they’re seen. But these birds’ camouflage techniques mean they’re vulnerable to off-road vehicles tearing across their habitat and other threats, ranging from dogs to development, which have made them among the rarest shorebirds in North America.

Since its Endangered Species Act protection more than 20 years ago, piping plover numbers have increased — through intensive nest and predator-management programs, as well as the designation of critical habitat in the Great Lakes and northern Great Plains. But while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also granted the bird critical habitat in its wintering grounds, this designation was drastically reduced from a proposed 2,104,879 acres to just 165,211, illegally excluding key habitat in Padre Island National Seashore for the benefit of oil and gas developers. To remind the Service of the definition of “essential habitat,” in 2007 the Center filed a notice of intent to sue over that decision and 54 others that have driven imperiled species across the country closer to extinction.

Off-road vehicles, which ruin habitat, crush nests and eggs, and directly kill birds by running over them are a key threat. Chicks that move across primary vehicle paths on their way to feed are in particular danger — especially when they get stalled alongside tall tire-track edges or stuck inside ruts. To save piping plovers from vehicle mortality, the Center has been working hard to keep off-road vehicles out of precious habitat through our Off-road Vehicles campaign. We’re also gearing up to petition the Secretary of the Interior and the Fish and Wildlife Service to establish rules that prohibit motorized vehicle use in all designated critical habitat and on all federal, state-owned, and state-managed public lands within piping plover habitat.

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2003 Recovery plan for Great Lakes population
2002 Critical habitat designation
1996 Recovery plan for Atlantic Coast population



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Off-road Vehicles
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Contact: Shaye Wolf

Photo © Sidney Maddock


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Piping Plover Fact

pdf version


Photo of a piping plover in non-breeding plumage.

The Great Lakes population of the piping plover was at a perilously low level. But intensive conservation efforts have seen the number of breeding pairs steadily climb from a low of 12 in 1983 . Also, the breeding range has expanded from Michigan into Wisconsin and Canada. Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

The piping plover
in the Great Lakes area is an endangered species. Endangered species are
animals and plants that are in danger of becoming extinct. The Northern
Great Plains and Atlantic coast piping plovers are threatened species.
Threatened species are animals and plants that are likely to become endangered
in the foreseeable future. Identifying, protecting, and restoring endangered
and threatened species is the primary objective of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service’s endangered species program.


What is the Piping

Charadrius melodus


Appearance – These small, stocky shorebirds have a sand-colored upper body, a white
underside, and orange legs. During the breeding season, adults have
a black forehead, a black breast band, and an orange bill.


Habitat – Piping plovers use wide, flat, open, sandy beaches with very little
grass or other vegetation. Nesting territories often include small creeks
or wetlands.


Reproduction – The female lays four eggs in its small, shallow nest lined with pebbles
or broken shells. Both parents care for the eggs and chicks. When the
chicks hatch, they are able to run about and feed themselves within


– The plovers eat insects, spiders, and crustaceans.


Range – Piping plovers are migratory birds. In the spring and summer they
breed in northern United States and Canada. There are three locations
where piping plovers nest in North America: the shorelines of the Great
Lakes, the shores of rivers and lakes in the Northern Great Plains,
and along the Atlantic Coast. Their nesting range has become smaller
over the years, especially in the Great Lakes area. In the fall, plovers
migrate south and winter along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico or other
southern locations. Biologists have a lot to learn about the lives of
piping plovers in their winter range.


Why is the Piping
Plover Endangered?

Loss or Degradation
– Many of the coastal beaches traditionally
used by piping plovers for nesting have been lost to commercial, residential,
and recreational developments. Through the use of dams or other water
control structures, humans are able to raise and lower the water levels
of many lakes and rivers of plover inland nest sites. Too much water
in the spring floods the plovers’ nests. Too little water over a long
period of time allows grasses and other vegetation to grow on the prime
nesting beaches, making these sites unsuitable for successful nesting.


Disturbance and Predation
– Piping plovers are very sensitive
to the presence of humans. Too much disturbance causes the parent birds
to abandon their nest. People (either on foot or in a vehicle) using
the beaches where the birds nest sometimes accidentally crush eggs or
young birds. Dogs and cats often harass and kill the birds. Other animals,
such as fox, gulls, and crows, prey on the young plovers or eggs.


What is Being
Done to Prevent Extinction of the Piping Plover?

Listing – The Great Lakes population of the piping plover was listed as an endangered
species in 1986, and the Northern Great Plains and Atlantic Coast populations
were listed as threatened species that same year.


– The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service developed recovery
plans that describe actions that need to be taken to help the bird survive
and recover.


Research – Several cooperative research groups have been set up among Federal
and State agencies, university and private research centers, and the
Canadian Wildlife Service. Studies are being conducted to determine
where plovers breed and winter, estimate numbers, and monitor long-term
changes in populations.


– Measures to protect the bird’s habitat are conducted
each year, including controlling human access to nesting areas, nest
monitoring and protection, limiting residential and industrial development,
and properly managing water flow. In Michigan, several landowners have
formally agreed to protect plover nesting habitat.


– Many States and private agencies are running successful
public information campaigns to raise awareness of the plover’s plight.
In Michigan, residents of coastal communities where the birds nest have
been contacted by an "ambassador" and provided with information
about the plight of the plover.


What Can I Do
to Help Prevent the Extinction of Species?

Learn – Learn more about the piping plover and other
endangered and threatened species. Understand how the destruction of
habitat leads to loss of endangered and threatened species and our nation’s
plant and animal diversity. Tell others about what you have learned.


Join – Join a conservation group; many have local


Protect – Protect natural coastal dune habitats by
staying on boardwalks and existing trails.  If walking your dog
on a beach or in other natural areas, please keep it leashed to protect
nesting birds.


Volunteer – Volunteer your time at a nearby Nature Center,
Wildlife Sanctuary or National Wildlife Refuge.


Fact Sheet Revised August 2001


Piping Plover Home


Last updated:
March 12, 2018

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