Piping Plover Photos courtesy of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission
Species Description: The piping plover (Charadrius melodus) is a small shorebird about the size of a robin. It has a sandy colored back and white underparts, with a single black neck band, a short stout orange bill and orange legs. Piping plovers arrive in the Northern Great Plains to breed around mid-April and fly south by mid to late August.
Location: The Northern Great Plains population of piping plovers nest on the shorelines and islands of alkali (salty) lakes in North Dakota and Montana. They nest on sandbar islands and reservoir shorelines along the Missouri River and reservoirs in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska. In Nebraska, they nest on the Platte River system, Niobrara, Loup, and Elkhorn rivers as well as limited locations in Minnesota and Colorado. Most of the Northern Great Plains plovers winter along the Texas coast, extending into Mexico.
Nesting: For nesting, piping plovers make shallow scrapes in the sand which they line with small pebbles or rocks. The female lays three to four eggs and both parents share in incubation duties. The eggs hatch after about 28 days, and the young leave the nest within hours. The chicks can forage for themselves immediately, but remain near their parents for several weeks for protection and temperature control (brooding or shading). Depending on food availability, it takes the young from around 18 to 28 days to begin flying.
Reasons for decline: In the late 1800’s, piping plovers’ feathers were used in the millinery (hat) trade, and the species was heavily hunted. Starting in the 1930’s, dam construction, water diversion and water withdrawals changed river flow regimes and drastically reduced the amount of available nesting habitat. Human-caused changes to the landscape have increased the number and type of predators, decreasing nest success and chick survival. On the wintering grounds, human disturbance, beach development, and sea level rise, have all drastically decreased the amount of habitat available to the piping plover.
Actions: A five-year review of the piping plovers’ Endangered Species Act listing was completed in September 2009. The current recovery plan was finalized in 1988. Recovery plan revision will begin in 2010.
Designation of Critial Habitat for the Nothern Great Plains Populations of Piping Plover
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated certain habitats in Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska as critical habitat for the Northern Great Plains population of piping plover, and imperiled migratory shorebird. This designation included 183,422 acres of habitat and 1,207.5 river miles.
Designated areas of critical habitat include prairie alkali wetlands and surrounding shoreline; river channels and associated sandbars and islands; and reservoirs and inland lakes and their sparsely vegetated shorelines, peninsulas, and islands.
These areas provide primary courtship, nesting, foraging, sheltering, brood-rearing and dispersal habitat for piping plovers.
Federal Register Notice: 9/11/2002 Designation of Critical Habitat for the Northern Great Plains Breeding Population of the Piping Plover; Final Rule
Final Environmental Assessment - Proposal of Critical Habitat for the Northern Great Plains Breeding Population of Piping Plovers - June 2002 - (57 pages, 271KB in PDF format)
Economic Analysis of Critical Habitat Designation for the Northern Great Plains Breeding Population of the Piping Plover 12/4/2001 (73 page, 153 KB PDF format)
- Range Map
- Unit 1 Minnesota Lake of the Woods
- Unit 1 Montana Sheridan County
- Unit 2 Montana Missouri River
- Unit 3 Montana Fort Peck Reservoir
- Unit 4 Montana Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge
- Unit 1 North Dakota Divide and Williams Counties
- Unit 10 North Dakota Eddy County
- Unit 11 North Dakota Missouri River and Reservoirs
- Unit 2 North Dakota Renville, Ward, Mountrail and Burke Counties
- Unit 3 North Dakota Ward and Mountrail Counties
- Unit 4 North Dakota McLean County
- Unit 5 North Dakota McHenry, McLean and Sheridan Counties
- Unit 6 North Dakota Pierce and Benson Counties
- Unit 7 North Dakota Burleigh and Kidder Counties
- Unit 8 North Dakota Stutsman County
- Unit 9 North Dakota Logan and McIntosh Counties
- Unit 1 South Dakota Missouri River
- Unit 2 South Dakota and Nebraska Missouri River
Finding of No Significant
Impact Designation of Critical Habitat for the Northern
Breeding Population of the Piping Plover
Legal Descriptions of Proposed Critical Habitat Areas - See Federal Register Notice
Questions and Answers About the Piping Plover Critical Habitat Designation
Questions and Answers About the Northern Great Plains Population of Piping Plover
Fact Sheet: Habitat
Fact Sheet: Exclusions
Fact Sheet: Designation of Critical Habitat by County
Fact Sheet: What the Critical Habitat Designation Means to Nebraskans
Other Information About Piping Plovers:
- Great Lakes Population of Piping Plovers
- National Endangered Species Piping Plover Website
- National FWS Piping Plover Website
- Atlantic Coast Population Information
Draft Environmental Assessment - Proposal of Critical Habitat for Northern Great Plains Breeding Population of Piping Plovers - June 2001 - (43 page, 115KB PDF format)
- Environmental Conservation Online System
- Information Planning and Conservation System
- Factsheet for this species