Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus) - Threatened
Piping plover with eggs. Photo Credit: USFWS digital library
Habitat: Sandy beaches
Occurs in Maine: Ogunquit, Moody, Wells, Drakes Island, Laudholm, Crescent Surf, Parsons, Marshall Point, Goose Rocks, Fortunes Rocks, Hills, Ferry (Saco), Goosefare Brook, Ocean Park, Old Orchard, Pine Point, Western, Scarborough, Higgins, Ram Island, Crescent Beach State Park, Seawall, Popham, Hunnewell, and Reid State Park Beaches.
Disturbance from humans and pets, predation,
habitat modification; and sea level rise.
Within its Atlantic Coast breeding range, the piping plover was federally listed as threatened
Species Description and Live History
The piping plover is a small shorebird approximately 7 inches long with a wingspan of about
15 inches. Piping plovers have white underparts with a light beige back and crown. Breeding adults have a single black breast band, which is often incomplete, and a black bar across the forehead. The legs and bill are orange in summer, with a black tip on the bill. In winter, the birds lose the breast bands, the legs fade from orange to pale yellow, and the bill becomes mostly black. Piping plover adults and chicks feed on marine macro invertebrates such as worms, fly larvae, beetles, and crustaceans.
Piping plover. Photo Credit: USFWS
Piping plovers are present on Maine beaches during the breeding season, generally between March 15 and August 31. These territorial birds nest above the high tide line on sandy ocean beaches on gently sloping fore-dunes, blowout areas behind primary dunes, wash-over areas cut into or between dunes, and the ends of sandspits. Piping plover nests consist of a shallow scrape in the sand, frequently lined with shell fragments and often located near small clumps of vegetation. Females lay four eggs that hatch in about 25 days, and surviving chicks learn to fly (fledge) after about 25 to 35 days. The flightless chicks follow their parents to feeding areas, which include the intertidal zone of ocean beaches, ocean wash-over areas, mud flats, sand flats, wrack lines (organic ocean material left by high tide), and the shorelines of coastal ponds, lagoons, and salt marshes.
Piping plover eggs in nest. Photo Credit: USFWS
Piping plover chick: Photo Credit: USFWS
Oiled Piping plover at the Buzzards Bay oil spill.
Photo Credit: Steve Mierzykowski, USFWS.
Threats to the piping plover include habitat loss, human disturbance of nesting birds, predation, and oil spills and other contaminants. Habitat loss results from development, as well as from beach stabilization, beach nourishment, and other physical alterations to the beach ecosystem. Human disturbance of nesting birds includes foot traffic, sunbathing, use of kites/kiteboards/ kitebuggies, pets, fireworks, mechanical beach raking, construction, and vehicle use. These disturbances can result in crushing of eggs, failure of eggs to hatch, and death of chicks. Predation on piping plover chicks and eggs is intensified by development because predators such as foxes, raccoons, skunks, crows, and gulls thrive in developed areas and are attracted to beaches by food scraps and trash. Unleashed and feral dogs and cats also disturb courtship and incubation and prey on chicks and adults.
The Atlantic Coast piping plover population breeds on coastal beaches from Newfoundland to North Carolina (and occasionally in South Carolina) and winters along the Atlantic Coast from North Carolina south, along the Gulf Coast, and in the Caribbean.
Distribution in Maine:
Piping plovers nest on Ogunquit, Moody, Wells, Drakes Island, Laudholm, Crescent Surf, Parsons, Marshall Point, Goose Rocks, Fortunes Rocks, Hills, Ferry (Saco), Goosefare Brook, Ocean Park, Old Orchard, Pine Point, Western, Scarborough, Higgins, Ram Island, Crescent Beach State Park, Seawall, Popham, Hunnewell, and Reid State Park Beaches in York, Cumberland and Sagadahoc Counties. These beaches are designated Essential Wildlife Habitat by Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Maps can be viewed at the “Beginning with Habitat” mapping service.
Examples of actions that may affect this species
The following is provided as technical assistance only and is not intended as a comprehensive list of all activities that may affect this species.
Within a beach, dune, or inter-tidal area:
- construction of any new permanent or temporary structure
- new or modified beach or dune management practices including but not limited to beach nourishment, permanent or temporary placement of dredged or fill material, sand transfers, grading, sand (snow) fence installation/modification/removal, vegetation planting or removal, mechanical beach raking, and equipment storage
- new or increased discharges of herbicides, pesticides, or environmental contaminants
- any new or expanded human activity during the nesting season of March 15 to August 31, especially but not limited to activities involving motorized vehicles or domestic animals
Within 1.0 mile of a beach, dune, or inter-tidal area:
- new or expanded facilities to provide public access to the beach
- permanent or temporary increases in noise or disturbance between March 15 to August 31, including but not limited to major construction work and operation of low-flying aircraft (less than 2,000 feet above ground level)
- fireworks displays
Best Management Practices
The following Best Management Practices are examples of typical Conservation Measures frequently recommended by the Maine Field Office in the course of consultation or technical assistance (example from New Jersey).
- Avoid permanent or temporary modification of piping plover nesting habitat including but not limited to creation or expansion of new stabilizing structures (e.g., jetties, groins, sea walls, sand fencing, stabilized dunes) and adverse changes in elevation such as through sand removal, deposition, or transfers.
- Avoid the introduction or spread of dense or invasive vegetation. Thoroughly clean construction equipment before use on a beach to avoid unintended spread of invasive plants. Contact the Service prior to any beach planting (except routine maintenance planting undertaken in accordance with an approved Beach Management Plan) (example is from New Jersey).
- Avoid noise and disturbance during the nesting season. Seasonally restrict work that might disturb piping plovers during the nesting season of March 15 through August 31, particularly work involving use of motorized vehicles.
- Avoid mechanical beach raking during the nesting season of March 15 through August 31 to protect birds and habitat characteristics such as wrack materials and shell fragments.
- Limit the abundance of predators on the beach by minimizing food scraps and fitting trash cans with predator-resistant lids.
- Minimize disturbance from pets by promoting the Cats Indoors program and seasonally prohibiting dog walking from March 15 through August 31.
- Manage recreational activities in accordance with the Service's Guidelines for Managing Recreational Activities in Piping Plover Breeding Habitat on the U.S. Atlantic Coast to Avoid Take Under Section 9 of the Endangered Species Act.
- Plan and carry out fireworks displays in accordance with the Service's Guidelines for Managing Fireworks in the Vicinity of Piping Plovers and Seabeach Amaranth on the U.S. Atlantic Coast .
- Work with the Service and the New Jersey Endangered and Nongame Species Program to prepare a Beach Management Plan (example from New Jersey). Plan and carry out projects, events, and habitat management in accordance with the provisions of approved plans.
What to do if this species occurs on your property or project site
- Contact the Service early in planning for any project or activity that may affect piping plovers or their habitat. Through the technical assistance or consultation processes of the Endangered Species Act, the Service will provide project-specific recommendations to avoid or minimize adverse effects to listed species.
- Individual beach-front property owners can also contact the Service for proactive conservation recommendations. Most land in Maine is privately owned. Voluntary conservation efforts by Maine residents are critical in the conservation and recovery of threatened and endangered species.
- Municipalities and other beach managers are encouraged to contact the Service for conservation recommendations to benefit listed species. See Beach Management Planning in New Jersey [PDF].
- Also see "Endangered Species and You" Frequently Asked Questions (example from New Jersey).