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Piping Plover on the Atlantic
Bridgehampton, Long Island, New York. USA
Canon Rebel xt
A Wilderness somewhere…..
What is a Piping Plover?
The Piping Plover is a small shorebird, a little smaller than a Robin. It looks quite round and plump when it is standing still on its orange legs. It has a black collar in summer, and a rather short beak. The legs and black collar are probably the most visible feature of this rare bird, because the feathers on its back are the color of pale dry sand, and the adult blends in with the beach so well that one might be standing very close to you without you noticing it. In winter, the black collar disappears, making the Piping Plover even harder to spot.
Piping Plover nesting
Piping Plovers nest on Atlantic beaches and on salt flats in the center of North America, their inland breeding ground stretching down to Nebraska and across the southern third of the Canadian Prairie Provinces. The female lays a small clutch of eggs in a small depression in the sand. Like the bird, the eggs are speckled like beach sand and blend in so well with the background that they are seldom noticed. On tidal beaches, nests are usually located near the top of the beach where the high water will not reach.
Conservation status of the Piping Plover
The Piping Plover is considered endangered in both the United States and Canada. The biggest factor in the bird’s decline is a single competitor – people. While habitat destruction is a factor on southern Atlantic beaches in winter, Piping Plover nests fail year after year for a variety of reasons:
•Nests are located in the same part of the beach favored by people for walking and sunbathing.
•Adult birds tend to leave the nest if there is too much activity nearby. Then the eggs chill or get too hot.
•The virtually invisible nests are often stepped on by people who simply do not see them.
•All terrain vehicles driven in the dunes destroy nests and habitat.
•Building on beaches destroys habitat.
•Garbage left on beaches attracts dogs, crows, raccoons, and other animals that will also prey on eggs and birds.
In the early 1990’s, people in various parts of the Piping Plover’s nesting range began taking steps to try to save the bird from extinction. The first step was determining what the Piping Plover population was, and where the nests were located. Then, it took teamwork to try to save the nests. Publicity to raise awareness, signs on beaches, physical barriers constructed around nests, volunteers on beaches during nesting season to warn people and clear away garbage, and even a captive breeding program combined to bring about a modest turnaround in the Piping Plover population. It seems to be working.
The threat of sea level rise due to global warming suggests another threat that may affect nesting in the future, but for now, the Piping Plover appears to be making a slow recovery.