The Piping Plover is one of those little birds that you often see on the beach in the summer – or rather, it is one of the little birds that you don’t see. You don’t see it for two main reasons. One is that it blends in with the color of the sand so well that your eye does not pick it out. The second reason is that the Piping Plover is endangered.
The Piping Plover is endangered because people keep disturbing the nests and destroying the habitat that the birds need to breed successfully. Nests are built on sandy beaches, above the high tide mark, and on salt flats inland, in the American Midwest and Canadian prairies. Hikers, sunbathers, hunters, wandering dogs, all terrain vehicles, and building projects all destroy nests and interfere with the Piping Plover’s attempts to reproduce.
If you want to help save the Piping Plover, you need to know what it looks like. You’ll find excellent Piping Plover pictures in Google images, as well as pictures of nests and maps of the bird’s range. Take note that the black collar around the neck is part of the summer plumage: this band disappears in winter.
To save the Piping Plover we need to protect the nests. Don’t let your dog run free on beaches in the nesting range from early May until the end of July. Watch for signs on Atlantic beaches indicating that you are in a Piping Plover nesting area, and if you see the birds on a beach that is not signposted, it’s a good idea to find out if there is a local guardian program to protect the birds and let them know (you could even join the group, if you are interested).
If you are walking on the beach, stay close to the water – to avoid stepping on fragile eggs, don’t walk in the top third of the beach. If you hear the soft piping call of a bird, but can’t spot the bird, retreat to the water’s edge and move away. Do the same if you see a bird that looks like a Piping Plover and is dragging a wing – the bird is feigning injury to lead you away. Don’t leave litter, particularly food, on the beach – this may attract predators such as crows and wild animals that will eat eggs, and birds too! Don’t drive on the beach – at any time. This is simply too destructive of the delicate beach environment, and in nesting season unseen nests may get run over.
Last of all, spread the word: the more people know about the Piping Plover, the more likely they will be to take a few simple steps to make sure they don’t contribute to the decline of a vulnerable bird.