New Jersey Field Office
Northeast Region

Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus) [threatened]

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Additional Information

Piping plover


Sandy beaches

Insects, marine worms, crustaceans

Main Threats:
Disturbance from humans and pets
Habitat modification

Fun Fact:
When eggs or chicks are threatened, an adult will often pretend to have a broken wing and call loudly in an effort to lure predators away from its young.


Within its Atlantic Coast breeding range, the piping plover was federally listed as threatened in 1986.

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 macroinvertebrates such as worms, fly larvae, beetles, and crustaceans.

Piping plovers are present on the New Jersey shore during the breeding season, generally between March 15 and August 31. These territorial birds nest above the high tide line, usually on sandy ocean beaches and barrier islands, but also on gently sloping foredunes, blowout areas behind primary dunes, washover areas cut into or between dunes, the ends of sandspits, and deposits of suitable dredged or pumped sand. 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 washover areas, mudflats, sandflats, wrack lines (organic ocean material left by high tide), and the shorelines of coastal ponds, lagoons, and salt marshes.

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 (Vulpes vulpes), rats (Rattus norvegicus), raccoons (Procyon lotor), skunks (Mephitis mephitis), crows (Corvus spp.), and gulls (Larus spp.) thrive in developed areas and are attracted to beaches by food scraps and trash. Unleashed and feral dogs (Canis familiaris) and cats (Felis domesticus) also disturb courtship and incubation and prey on chicks and adults.

Piping plover distribution in the U.S.
Piping plover distribution in the U.S. (Click for full-size)

Piping plover distribution in New Jersey by municipality
Piping plover distribution in New Jersey by municipality
(click for full-size)


Species Range: 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 New Jersey: Piping plovers nest on coastal beaches in Monmouth, Ocean, Atlantic, and Cape May Counties.

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 New Jersey Field Office in the course of consultation or technical assistance.

  • 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 plantings (except routine maintenance plantings undertaken in accordance with an approved Beach Management Plan).
  • 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. 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; see New Jersey Field Office Procedures for Consultation and Technical Assistance for instructions. 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 New Jersey is privately owned. Voluntary conservation efforts by New Jersey's 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.

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Last updated: February 19, 2019
New Jersey Field Office
Northeast Region Ecological Services
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