Species spotlight: piping plover

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

As Michigan tourists pack up their bags and head for beaches in the north, they should keep an eye out this summer for the endangered piping plover.

The piping plover population has significantly declined in the Great Lakes areas because of recreational beach development and tourism.

piping plover

The piping plover stands atop shells in sand in shallow, flowing water.
Photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services.

The piping plover is a sand bird which nests in North America in the Great Plains, along the coasts of the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean.

The piping plover is sandy in color on top with a white underbelly. The plover also has a black band around its neck and a black crown on its head. Its legs are orange but fade to yellow in the winter.

Piping plovers prefer to make their habitat in sandy areas such as dunes, gravel beaches and sand bars.

Sites where the piping plover is most commonly found are Texas, Louisiana and Florida because of the high concentration recorded in those areas. Out of a total of 1,372 breeding pairs, only 32 have appeared in Michigan.

This bird has been classified as endangered since 1986 — it is endangered in the Great Lakes area and threatened in other North American regions.

The plover feeds on wet sand, in any nearby areas it can find: algal flats, shorelines of streams, ephemeral ponds and lagoons to name a few.

They utilize small sand dunes for protection from hot and stormy weather.

Breeding begins in March and extends through mid-May, with the piping plover laying three or four eggs in a shallow, camouflaged nest of pebbles and shells. Both parents are involved in prenatal care of the eggs, each sitting atop them to keep them warm. After the eggs hatch, both parents feed the chicks until they are able to take flight.

The chicks will fly after 30 days and starting in July through October, they will take off on their journey.

An unscathed habitat is a necessity to ensure hatch-lings will be able to survive and make it to migrating season. Unfortunately, land development and tourism has deterred the piping plover population from using Michigan beaches as its habitat.


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