This sand-colored, sparrow-sized shorebird breeds on coastal beaches from Newfoundland and southeastern Quebec to North Carolina, wintering primarily on the Atlantic Coast from North Carolina to Florida.
Common during much of the 19th century, the piping plover nearly disappeared due to excessive hunting for the millinery trade. After passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918, numbers recovered, peaking in the 1940s then falling again in response to increased development and recreational use of beaches.
Now classified by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as threatened throughout its North American range and endangered in Maryland, recent surveys place the Atlantic population at less than 1,800 pairs.
About 60 pairs arrive in the Chesapeake Bay region in late March to breed. Following establishment of nesting territories and courtship rituals, a breeding pair forms a depression near dunes, sometimes lining the nest with small stones or shell fragments.
Parents incubate their eggs (usually four) for about 25 days. The hatched young, while extremely mobile, are incapable of flying. At this point, the entire family leaves the nest (never to return) with adults guiding the young through their new surroundings and searching for food.
When intruders near, the young squat motionless while parents attempt to attract attention to themselves, often by feigning a broken wing. After night falls, the families huddle together in sandy dunes for protection.
Unique in their hunting technique, the small birds often extend one foot out into wet sand and vibrate it to scare up food items – such as marine worms, crustaceans, beetles, fly larvae, mollusks and other small marine animals and their eggs.
The piping plover’s call -- plaintive bell-like whistles -- is often heard before the bird can be seen.
Photo of Adult Piping Plover
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