Pennsylvania Field Office
Northeast Region

Piping Plover
Life History and Biology

Piping plover Epioblasma torulosa rangiana

STATUS: Endangered

DESCRIPTION: The piping plover is a small, stocky, sandy-colored bird resembling a sandpiper. The adult has yellow-orange legs, a black band across the forehead from eye to eye, and a black ring around the base of its neck. Like other plovers, it runs in short starts and stops. When still, the piping plover blends into the pale background of open, sandy habitat on outer beaches where it feeds and nests. The bird's name derives from its call notes, plaintive bell-like whistles which are often heard before the birds are seen.

Piping plovers return to their breeding grounds in late March or early April. Following establishment of nesting territories and courtship rituals, the pair forms a depression in the sand somewhere on the high beach close to the dunes. The nest is sometimes lined with small stones or fragments of shell.

RANGE AND POPULATION LEVEL: The piping plover’s summer range occurs in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. These birds winter primarily on the Atlantic Coast from North Carolina to Florida, although some migrate to the Bahamas and West Indies.

HABITAT: Beaches along shorelines of the Great Lakes (Lake Erie, Pennsylvania).

REASONS FOR CURRENT STATUS: Commercial, residential, and recreational development have decreased the amount of coastal habitat available for piping plovers to nest and feed. Human disturbance often curtails breeding success. Foot and vehicular traffic may crush nests or young. Excessive disturbance may cause the parents to desert the nest, exposing eggs or chicks to the summer sun and predators. Interruption of feeding may stress juvenile birds during critical periods in their development. Pets, especially dogs, may harass the birds. Developments near beaches provide food that attracts increased numbers of predators such as raccoons, skunks, and foxes. Domestic and feral cats are also very efficient predators of plover eggs and chicks. Additionally, stormtides may inundate nests.

Fact Sheet
Recovery Plan
(pdf 1.27MB)
5 Year Review
(pdf 4.00MB)
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Species Information
Last updated: September 24, 2010
All images by FWS unless otherwise noted.