About Piping Plovers

The Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus)  is a sparrow-sized bird named for its distinct, highly varied, and melodic piping vocalizations.

The diminutive shorebirds are well-camouflaged, mirroring coastal hues of the surrounding shoreline, of weathered driftwood and sandy beaches. Piping Plovers sport a black or brown crescent moon-shaped headband and wider black or brown collar band. Their black-tipped orange bills are darker in winter, more brilliant in summer, and slender orange legs and teeny-taloned toes propel them around the beach with lightning speed.

Piping Plover male, left, female right

The difference between a male and female Piping Plover is usually easy to spot. The female’s headband is typically paler and her shoulder collar less pronounced however, males with the lightest markings look similar to females with the darkest markings.

Piping Plovers forage along the shoreline, just as do Sandpipers, and the two are often confused. They eat a wide variety of invertebrates including insects, marine worms, tiny mollusks and crustaceans.

Chick eating a marine worm

Piping Plovers nest on beaches, the same area of the beach that people enjoy. Their nests, eggs, and chicks are so well-camouflaged that it is easy for people and pets to step on them before they are even aware of their presence.

Shoreline development, off road vehicles, free roaming cats and dogs, crows, and seagulls have contributed to the decline of the Piping Plover. Currently, there are only about 8,000 individuals. Critical Piping Plover breeding habitats are protected to help the birds successfully nest and rear chicks to fledge.

The Piping Plover is federally listed as Endangered in the Great Lakes region and as Threatened in the Atlantic Coast region and Great Plains; and is also listed as Endangered in Canada. Threatened species of wildlife share the exact same protections as Endangered species.

In 2016, a pair of Piping Plovers arrived at Good Harbor Beach, quite possibly, the first nesting pair in nearly a century. A loosely formed bunch of volunteers began watching over the Plovers and subsequently formed the Piping Plover Ambassador group. We provide full coverage at Good Harbor Beach, monitoring the Plovers and sharing information with beachgoers about our most vulnerable summer beach residents.

Piping Plover chicks are considered fully fledged at about 5 weeks, or 35-36 days. The fledglings will continue to forage and sleep at Cape Ann beaches for approximately one to two weeks more, building their fat reserves for the southward migration. It is thought that Cape Ann Piping Plovers first travel to the barrier beaches of the North Carolina coastline before then heading to barrier beaches of Caribbean islands.

You, too, can be excellent Piping Plover stewards. If you see Piping Plovers on the beach, please give them lots and lots of space. They wander far outside of denoted restricted areas, from the dunes to the shoreline. When Plovers are at the shoreline and in the tide pools, they are usually foraging. Undisturbed feeding allows the birds to grow strong and to migrate successfully. Please do not follow the birds while they are feeding in hopes to get a close up with your camera.

Dogs are not permitted at Good Harbor Beach at any time of day or night from April 1st through September 30th. Kites, drones, and para gliders are not permitted within 650 feet of Piping Plovers. Crows and seagulls eat Piping Plover eggs and chicks. Please pick up trash and do not bury it in the sand.

Thank you for helping to protect Cape Ann’s Piping Plovers!

Piping Plover are well camouflaged in the popples at chicks at Cape Hedge Beach, Rockport