Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus)

Description
Piping Plover

Size

  • Is a small, stocky shorebird, measuring 18 to 19 centimetres (seven to seven-and-a-half inches) long.
  • The male and female are similar in size.

Appearance

  • Head, back, and wings are pale brown to grey and highlighted with black and white.
  • Identifying field marks include:
    • A black stripe across the forehead from eye to eye
    • A long white eyestripe
    • A single black neckband (in some birds the band is not complete across the breast)
  • The dark head and chest bands usually are absent on wintering birds.
  • The male and female are similar in colour.
Distribution
  • In Alberta, the population of piping plovers has been low but relatively stable.
  • The historic breeding range of piping plovers extended as far north and west as Miquelon Lake, Beaverhill Lake, and Gull Lake, but there are no nesting records from these lakes since the mid-1970s.
  • Piping plovers breed locally along lakes and sloughs in the aspen parkland and northern fescue prairie in east-central Alberta. Most of the breeding birds are found near Provost, Hanna, and Medicine Hat.
Natural History

Habitat

  • For breeding, this species prefers beaches of alkaline or hyper-saline lakes or ponds.
  • Beaches used by the piping plover are either clear of vegetation or sparsely vegetated.

Food

  • Piping plovers food preferences are not well known in Alberta, but their diet appears to include small insects, and the occasional grasshopper.
  • They feed by wandering back and forth along the shoreline close to their nest. Adult birds are seen close to the water's edge most often in the morning and afternoon.
  • Unlike some shorebirds, the piping plover does not probe deeply into the sand. Instead, it seems to pick its food from the surface as it is washed up or exposed by the water.

When Active

  • Is present in Alberta from late April to early August.
Reproduction and Growth

Breeding Behaviour

  • In Alberta, piping plovers nest in bare areas of sand, small pebbles, or gravel.
  • The nest is a small shallow pocket that the adults scrape out and usually line with small pebbles. The pebbles may keep the eggs away from wet sand and provide drainage after a rainstorm.
  • In May, the female usually lays four eggs that are cream-coloured with a few small dark spots. The dark spots help to camouflage the eggs among the pebbles lining the nest.
  • The female lays one egg every other day and both adults take turns incubating the eggs for approximately 28 days. Sharing the incubation allows each bird time to catch and eat its own food.

Growth Process

  • Young birds hatch in early June and can fly by mid-July. Most have left the nesting grounds by early August.
Conservation and Management

Status

The piping plover are classified as At Risk in the current General Status of Alberta Wild Species report. See:

For more information on this species, and the assessment and listing process, see the Status of the piping plover in Alberta report at:

This bird species is also listed as Endangered under the Wildlife Act. For more information on this species and the assessment and listing process, see:

Issues

  • Because of the small population size in Alberta, the potential for significant decline is high.

Current management

  • As an Endangered species, the piping plover is protected by the provincial Wildlife Act and it is illegal to kill or harass individuals or disturb their nests at any time of the year. This species is the subject of recovery planning and implementation in Alberta. See:
  • Management to support this species has included:
    • Fencing critical shorelines to keep cattle away
    • Management of water levels and vegetation on traditional nesting beaches
    • Protecting habitat by means of land purchase or long-term agreements with landowners
    • Public education

 

Page Information

Updated: Jan 8, 2014