Piping Plover - Charadrius melodus
The piping plover is a small, sparrow-sized shorebird. It is about 5-7 inches in length. It is sandy brown-gray on its back and white on its underside. It has a black or brown neck band; a black tip on its tail; white "eyebrows;" a black band across its forehead; yellow-orange legs and feet; and a small, stubby orange bill with a black tip.
In winter, the piping plover's black bands fade or disappear, its legs fade to a paler yellow-orange, and its bill becomes black. Males and females are similar in appearance, but the male is a little larger, and the base of his bill is a brighter orange during breeding season. The piping plover gets its name from the piping sound of its call.
The piping plover breeds on the northern Great Plains from Alberta, Canada south, along the northern Great Lakes, and along the Atlantic coast from Newfoundland to North Carolina. It winters on the Gulf coast and the southern Atlantic coast north to North Carolina. The piping plover is a threatened species in the United States and an endangered species in New Hampshire.
Piping plovers eat marine worms, fly larvae, beetles, insects, crustaceans, mollusks, and other small invertebrates. When it spots its prey, it quickly runs after it, stops suddenly, and then quickly snatches it up.
The piping plover returns to its breeding ground in late March or early April. The male piping plover courts the female by flying over her and swooping down close to the ground. The male selects the nest site and defends it from other plovers. He then starts scraping a nest in the sand above the high tide line. Both the male and female may toss stones and shell fragments into the depression. The female piping plover usually lays four eggs.
The eggs hatch in about 25 days and the chicks fledge when they are 3-4 weeks old. The parents don't feed the chicks. The chicks are precocial and hop out of the nest and forage for food themselves. If the young are threatened by a predator, the adult may pretend to have a broken wing to lure the predator away!
Piping plovers and their eggs blend in very well with the sand, which is good camouflage from predators but can put the eggs in danger of being stepped on by humans. In some areas, the piping plover is endangered. The spread of human developments in ocean side and lakeshore areas has disturbed or destroyed nesting sites of the piping plover.
On some beaches, the nesting areas of piping plovers are closed off so people don't step on the eggs. In New Hampshire, piping plovers nest along the state's beaches, and since 1996 New Hampshire Fish and Game has been fencing off areas and putting up signs where there are plover's nests to help protect their eggs. In the past few years, piping plovers have made nests at Hampton Beach State Park and Seabrook Beach.
Audio Credit: xeno-canto.org Ian Davies