Piping plover (Charadrius melodus)

Species Status: Endangered in Canada
Action Required: Conservation rearing of abandoned eggs

The endangered piping plover is extremely sensitive to disturbances on the beaches where it nests. As a result, it is not uncommon for adults to abandon viable nests.

The piping plover is a small, migratory shorebird whose brown, grey and white feathers make them nearly impossible to spot in certain surroundings. The plover’s sandy colouration provides excellent camouflage as it forages for insects and small crustaceans along the water’s edge and in small beach pools. Piping plovers are characterized by their high-pitched call. Both parents participate in incubating eggs and caring for nestlings, although the chicks are able to leave the nest and forage for food within a few hours of hatching.

Piping plovers require wide beaches that have some gravel or cobble cover for nesting, little vegetative cover and plenty of distance between nest sites and the treeline.

There are two distinct subspecies of piping plovers. The melodus subspecies nests along the Atlantic coast from Newfoundland to South Carolina. In Canada they breed along the coasts of Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island and on the Magdalen Islands of Quebec. The circumcinctus subspecies nests on the shores of the Great Lakes, and throughout the Great Plains region. In Canada, they are found on the Lake Ontario shoreline and in the southern parts of the Prairie provinces. Wintering grounds for both groups range along the Atlantic coast from South Carolina to Florida and in the Caribbean. While piping plover populations are decreasing across their range, the Great Lakes region has experienced the most dramatic declines.

A 2011 survey found just over 450 breeding pairs in Canada. The biggest threat to piping plovers throughout their range is the loss or degradation of habitat resulting from the recreational use of beaches. ATVs, off-leash dogs, or even innocent beachcombers out for a walk often destroy plover nests or prompt the parents to abandon otherwise healthy eggs. In addition, garbage left behind attracts predators such as the red fox, raccoon, ring-billed gull and crow.

Recommended Recovery Actions

The federal Recovery Strategy for piping plover calls for a number of conservation measures, including managing habitat, identifying the birds’ winter habitat and assessing the value of conservation breeding and release.

What we are doing

Find out how Wildlife Preservation Canada helps save Canada’s birds, including piping plovers, and how you can make a difference.