Piping Plover - July 2003 Species of the Month
This small shorebird shares select behaviors with
some of New Jersey residents and summer visitors: they select their "territory"
on the beach, nestle into the sand, scurry around at the water's edge,
feed their young, and watch life go on around them. This harmonious analogy
is misleading though, as the coastal activities of people often conflict
with what the piping plover needs to successfully reproduce while here
in New Jersey.
Recreational, residential and commercial development
along the shore have reduced the amount of coastal habitat available for
piping plovers to nest and feed. The Department of Environmental Protection
(DEP) listed the piping as an endangered species in 1984, meaning it faces
extirpation from New Jersey. The U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service listed the Atlantic coast population as threatened
Since its federal listing, the Atlantic coast piping
plover population has grown from 790 pairs in 1986 to 1,525 pairs in 2001
(USFWS). In New Jersey, the population has remained relatively stable
at about 120 pairs, ranging from a low of 93 pairs in 1998 to a high of
138 pairs in 2002.
Due to its precarious existence on New Jersey's beaches,
the piping plover remains one of New Jersey's most endangered species.
Without intense protection and management it is unlikely that the piping
plover population would survive in our state.
Plover nest with eggs
Newborn chick in nest
Plover with chick
Life Can Be "A Beach"
for the Piping Plover
- Hunters and egg collectors decimated piping
plovers and other shorebirds in the late 1800s through early
1900s, using their plumes to accessorize hats that were then
considered fashionable. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918
(as well as changing fashion trends) helped the population to
recover throughout the 1930s.
- Coastal development and increased recreational
use of New Jersey beaches caused a second population decline
in the decades following World War II.
- Human disturbance, including vehicular
and foot traffic, can crush young birds, and destroy nests.
By disrupting parental care, human disturbance also can expose
eggs and chicks to killing heat and cold, cut off access to
important feeding habitats, and increase the chances of being
eaten by predators.
- Dogs are an especially disruptive, as plover
adults react to dogs as they would a fox or similar predator.
Dogs also will prey on plover chicks and eggs.
- Domestic and feral cats are efficient
predators of plover eggs and chicks.
Natural threats to the piping plover include
higher tides resulting from storms, along with predators like
foxes, raccoons, skunks, crows and gulls. Trash receptacles
from commercial food establishments, as well as food waste
left behind by beach-goers, can attract more predator.
Facts of Interest about the Piping
- Piping plovers return to their breeding grounds
in late March to early April. After males and females perform
courtship rituals and establish their nesting territory, they
form a depression in the sand that becomes their nest. Sometimes
the pair will line the nest with small stones or shell fragments.
- Nests are found on the beach between dunes
and the high-tide line. Piping plovers also prefer nesting amid
sparse vegetation, which provides them with cover from predators
and weather. At the same time, they do not establish nests in
areas with dense vegetation (such as among the dunes), which provides
cover for predators.
- Plovers lay as many as four eggs at a time.
Hatching occurs about a month later, and the young birds soon
follow their parents to forage for food. When predators or intruders
are near, the chicks squat motionless in the sand while the adults
try to lure away the threat by feigning a broken wing. Plover
chicks can fly 25 to 35 days after hatching
- During the non-breeding season piping plovers
inhabit beaches, barrier islands, sandflats and mudflats and look
for food in these same areas. They typically consume insects,
insect eggs, crustaceans and marine worms.
Erecting exclosure around nest
Electric fence exclosure around nest
Protected plover on nest
- Piping plovers are robin-sized shorebirds with
sand-colored plumage, a black neckband, and a black bar across the forehead.
It runs in stops and starts on yellow-orange legs and is often identified
by its whistling "peep-lo" call.
- When piping plovers arrive in New Jersey each spring
they eat a lot to recover the energy and body weight lost during the
long migration from their coastal wintering grounds to the south. Piping
plovers winter from North Carolina to Mexico, the Bahamas, and the West
Indies. By mid-September both the adult and young piping plovers will
have left New Jersey for their wintering areas.
|Ways You Can Help
Volunteer posting sign
- Stay out of all beach areas that are fenced or
posted for the protection of shorebirds and other types of wildlife.
Do not approach or disturb piping plovers, their chicks, or their nest
sites. Adhere to the advice and direction provided by ENSP staff or
volunteers who are patrolling these "off-limits" areas, especially
during busy weekends.
- Keep pets off the beach or far from nesting areas.
Even leashed dogs are major disturbance, and dogs are prohibited on
most beaches during the summer months.
- Do not leave or bury litter, food or food containers
on the beach, because food attracts predators.
- Join the DEP Beach Nesting
Bird Project - volunteers can assist with nest protection, nest
monitoring and public outreach. Visit the website for details or e-mail