Wisconsin Ecological Services Field Office

Midwest Region


Wisconsin Field Office

2661 Scott Tower Drive
Green Bay, WI 54229-9565
Phone: 920-866-1717
Fax: 920-866-1710
TTY: 1-800-877-8339 (Federal Relay)

e-mail: GreenBay@fws.gov


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Great Lakes Piping Plover


Wisconsin's piping plovers winter on the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. They leave as early as mid-July, with the latest birds migrating in early September.


Adult females usually migrate first, followed in order by unpaired males, males with fledglings, and unaccompanied young.


Piping plovers begin arriving on the wintering grounds in July, with some late-nesting birds arriving in September. Lone birds can be found on the wintering grounds throughout the year, but sightings are rare in late May, June, and early July.


Piping plover migration patterns are not well known. Most piping plovers probably migrate non-stop to their wintering areas.


Spring migration begins when birds depart their wintering grounds in mid-February, although peak migration is in March. Males and females may migrate separately, although they have been recorded arriving at the same time at major breeding areas. Males may then disperse to other breeding areas alone or accompanied by a female.


Little is known about routes that piping plovers take from Wisconsin to their wintering grounds. The fact that there are few sightings of piping plover sightings at inland shorebird stopover areas may indicate nonstop migration between the Great Lakes and the wintering grounds. However, during a study currently underway by the University of Minnesota some recorded observations of inland stopover sites were found. Additionally, many sites within the Great Lakes where piping plovers once nested now function as foraging areas for piping plovers during migration. Transient individuals have been reported at a number of sites in Michigan, Wisconsin and other states.



Piping plovers spend up to 10 months of the year on the wintering grounds, thus sufficient and suitable wintering habitat is important for their survival. Piping plovers banded in Michigan have been sighted in both Atlantic and Gulf coast states.


United States wintering locations of piping plovers banded in Michigan from 1993-2003.

Map showing wintering location of piping plovers banded in Michigan.



On their wintering grounds piping plovers spend most of their time looking for prey and eating. They eat polychaete marine worms, various crustaceans, insects, and occasionally bivalve mollusks. When not foraging, plovers roost, preen, bathe and move among areas that provide suitable habitat. They use beaches, mud flats, sand flats, algal flats, and washover passes (areas where breaks in the sand dunes result in an inlet).


Individual plovers tend to return to the same wintering sites year after year. During winter, plovers depend on a mosaic of habitat patches, and move among these patches depending on weather and tides. For example, a single piping plover may leave a site if it becomes inundated by a high tide or storm event or if high winds or cold temperatures make the site unsuitable for foraging or roosting. This bird will move to other patches within the landscape that provide refuge from poor weather until they can resume foraging.


Piping Plover Home

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Last updated: January 7, 2020