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Piping Plover

Charadrius melodus

Length: 7.25 inches Wingspan: 15 inches Seasonality: Migrant / Summer
ID Keys: Pale sand-colored back, short stubby bill, orange legs, black chest band

Piping Plover - Charadrius melodusThe Piping Plover was once a fairly common sight along Atlantic coast beaches, Great Lakes beaches, and interior river sandbars, but is now threatened or endangered throughout its entire range.  In South Dakota, nesting activity is primarily on Missouri River sandbars, where successful nesting is threatened by controlled water levels in the state's reservoirs.  Human disturbance on Great Lakes and Atlantic beaches also has had a severe impact on Piping Plover populations.

Habitat: Needs open sandy areas near water for nesting.  In the interior of the country, this is often on sandbars of major rivers, as well as the sandy beaches of the Great Lakes.  Sandy beaches along the shoreline are used along the Atlantic Coast. 

Diet: Aquatic and terrestrial insects, small crustaceans and mollusks, and marine worms

Nesting: May through July.  The nest is a simple scrape in the sand, sometimes lined with bits of rock or shell.  The female lays 4 eggs, and both parents help to incubate them.  After the eggs hatch, both parents help tend to the young, but the young leave the nest after just a few hours, and must find their own food.

Song: Piping Plover song.

Migration: Summers along major rivers in the Great Plains of the U.S. and southern Canada, as well as Great Lakes and Atlantic Seaboard beaches.  Winters along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

Interactive eBird Map: Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Piping Plover sightings

Similar Species: Semipalmated Plover, Snowy Plover

Conservation Status: Piping Plovers are threatened or endangered throughout their entire range.  Once a fairly common breeder on Great Lakes beaches, they are now nearly extirpated from the region.  Regulation of water on rivers affects inland birds attempting to nest on sand bars.  Atlantic coastline beach nesters are severely impacted by human activity. On a global basis, the IUCN lists the Piping Plover as a "Near Threatened" species.

Further Information: 1) USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, Piping Plover

2) Cornell University's "All About Birds - Piping Plover"

3) Piping Plover

Image Information: Color pencil drawing by Terry Sohl


Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Range Map - Piping Plover
South Dakota Status: Uncommon summer breeding resident along the Missouri River and a few tributaries.  Rare migrant elsewhere.

Additional Piping Plover Images
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
 Piping Plover - Drawing by Terry Sohl