The piping plover (charadrius melodus) is a small bird that nests and feeds mainly along seacoasts, on isolated, sandy beaches, with little vegetation and access to mudflats for feeding. Piping plovers nest from Nova Scotia south to North Carolina, with a population in the Great Lakes region north into Alberta, Canada. They winter along the southern coast from North Carolina to Texas and into the Caribbean. Currently this bird is protected under the Endangered Species Act.
The birds arrive to nest in late March along the Atlantic coast. The nests are usually located in shallow depressions near vegetation and often times are surrounded by shells. The first eggs to appear show up in late April and the nests usually have three to four eggs in them. The eggs are cream-colored with dark brown flecks located on the surface. Both the male and female incubate the eggs. The average amount of time that the eggs take to hatch is around twenty-seven days. The young birds leave the nest within an hour of hatching. It takes about 28 days for the young to fledge, but will stay with their parents until migration.
There are several reasons why the piping plover is an endangered species. Mostly the reason is the depletion of the birdâ€™s critical habitat. Development of beach areas for recreation has seriously limited the number of available nest sites. Beach stabilization projects have reduced the quality of the remaining sites, forcing the birds to nest in areas with greater vegetation and increased human disturbances. Vegetation provides cover for predators such as dogs, cats, rats, raccoons, and skunks. Human disturbances affect productivity by keeping birds off nests, preventing them from attending the eggs and young. Destruction of the nests by humans is also a factor.
In the past (late 1800s), unrestricted market hunting for the millenary trade depleted the piping plover population along the Atlantic coast.