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Species Description

Piping Plover

Charadrius melodus

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Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Charadriiformes
Family: Charadriidae


Breeding season: Pale brown above, lighter below; black band across forehead; bill orange with black tip; legs orange; white rump. Male: Complete or incomplete black band encircles the body at the breast. Female: Paler head band; incomplete breast band. Winter coloration: Bill black; all birds lack breast band and head band. 18 cm (7.25 in) in length.

Life Cycle

The breeding season begins in late April and extends into late August. Breeding habitat is commonly coastal beaches with sand, gravel, or pebbles. The nest is a scrape created by both the male and female. The female lays 3-5 (usually 4) eggs that both adults incubate for 25-31 days. The young are precocial and leave the nest within a few hours of hatching. Both adults care for the young, but the female will sometimes stop caring for the young sooner than the male does. The young become independent 20-32 days after they hatch.

Natural History

The non-breeding habitat of the Piping Plover is very similar to its nesting habitat. The diet consists of crustaceans, insects, and mollusks. The food is usually found by probing into the sandy soil for the items. This species is migratory.


Piping Plover Region Map During the breeding season, the Piping Plover occurs in the northern, central, and eastern United States. It occurs all year in coastal eastern and southern United States.

Conservation Status

The Piping Plover is listed as an Endangered species in the states of the Great Lakes Region, and as a Threatened species in all the states of the Southeast except Arkansas. Populations of the Piping Plover have declined because of extensive hunting in the past and now are continuing to decline because of habitat loss and recreational use of coastal areas. Many nests are destroyed by vehicles driving along the coastal beaches.

Similar Species

The most similar species are the Snowy Plover, Wilson's Plover, and Semi-palmated Plover. In breeding plumage both the Snowy and Wilson's Plovers have completely black bills. The Wilson Plover's bill is also much thicker than that of the Piping Plover. The breeding Semi-palmated Plover has more black on the face, darker back and wings, and duller colored legs. In winter, the Snowy Plover has black on its head and neck, and the Semi-palmated Plover is darker overall with a brown neck band.