Panama City Field Office
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Winterning Piping plover
  Wintering Piping plover
Photos by FWS


Piping Plover



Piping plovers (Charadrius melodus) are small shorebirds approximately seven inches long with sand-colored plumage on their backs and crown and white underparts. Breeding birds have a single black breastband, a black bar across the forehead, bright orange legs and bill, and a black tip on the bill. During winter, the birds lose the black bands, the legs fade to pale yellow, and the bill becomes mostly black. The bird's name derives from its call notes, plaintive bell-like whistles which are often heard before the birds are seen.

Piping plovers breed only in North America in three geographic regions: the Atlantic Coast, the Northern Great Plains, and the Great Lakes. Piping plovers from all three breeding populations winter along South Atlantic, Gulf Coast, and Caribbean beaches and barrier islands, primarily on intertidal beaches with sand and/or mud flats with no or very sparse vegetation. Plovers depart for the wintering grounds from mid-July through late October.

In recent decades, piping plover populations have drastically declined. Breeding habitat has been replaced with shoreline development and recreation. Availability of quality foraging and roosting habitat in the wintering grounds is necessary in order to ensure that an adequate number of adults survive to migrate back to breeding sites and successfully nest.

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Last updated: April 17, 2018