See our new Endangered Species website!
-- Endangered Species Facts U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Region 3 March
The piping plover in the Great Lakes area is an endangered
species. Endangered species are animals and plants that are in
danger of becoming extinct. The Northern Great Plains and
Atlantic Coast piping plovers are threatened species.
Threatened species are animals and plants that are likely to
become endangered in the foreseeable future. Identifying,
protecting, and restoring endangered and threatened species is
the primary objective of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Servicežs
endangered species program.
The Great Lakes population of the piping plover is at a
perilously low level. Since 1983, the number of nesting pairs
has ranged from 12 to 19. All of the Great Lakes pairs nest in
What is the Piping Plover?
- Charadrius melodus
- These small, stocky shorebirds have a
sand-colored upper body, a white underside, and orange
legs. During the breeding season, adults have a black
forehead, a black breast band, and an orange bill.
- Piping plovers use wide, flat, open, sandy
beaches with very little grass or other vegetation.
Nesting territories often include small creeks or wetlands.
- The female lays four eggs in its small,
shallow nest lined with pebbles or broken shells. Both
parents care for the eggs and chicks. When the chicks
hatch, they are able to run about and feed themselves
- Feeding Habits
- The plovers eat insects, spiders, and crustaceans.
- Piping plovers are migratory birds. In the spring
and summer they breed in northern United States and
Canada. There are three locations where piping plovers
nest in North America: the shorelines of the Great Lakes,
the shores of rivers and lakes in the Northern Great
Plains, and along the Atlantic Coast. Their nesting range
has become smaller over the years, especially in the
Great Lakes area. In the fall, plovers migrate south and
winter along the Gulf Coast or other southern locations.
Biologists have a lot to learn about the lives of piping
plovers in their winter range.
Why is the Piping Plover Endangered?
- Habitat Loss or Degradation
- Many of the coastal
beaches traditionally used by piping plovers for nesting
have been lost to commercial, residential, and
recreational developments. Through the use of dams or
other water control structures, humans are able to raise
and lower the water levels of many lakes and rivers of
plover inland nest sites. Too much water in the spring
floods the plovers' nests. Too little water over a long
period of time allows grasses and other vegetation to
grow on the prime nesting beaches, making these sites
unsuitable for successful nesting.
- Nest Disturbance and Predation
- Piping plovers are very
sensitive to the presence of humans. Too much
disturbance causes the parent birds to abandon their
nest. People (either on foot or in a vehicle) using the
beaches where the birds nest sometimes accidentally
crush eggs or young birds. Dogs and cats often harass
and kill the birds. Other animals, such as fox, gulls, and
crows, prey on the young plovers or eggs.
What is Being Done to Prevent the Extinction of the Piping
- The Great Lakes population of the piping plover
was listed as an endangered species in 1986, and the
Northern Great Plains and Atlantic Coast populations
were listed as threatened species that same year.
- Recovery Plans
- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
developed recovery plans that describe actions that need
to be taken to help the bird survive and recover.
- Several cooperative research groups have
been set up among federal and state agencies, university
and private research centers, and the Canadian Wildlife
Service. Studies are being conducted to determine where
plovers breed and winter, estimate numbers, and monitor
long-term changes in populations.
- Habitat Protection
- Measures to protect the bird's
habitat are conducted each year, including controlling
human access to nesting areas, nest monitoring and
protection, limiting residential and industrial development,
and properly managing water flow. In Michigan, several
landowners have formally agreed to protect plover
- Public Education
- Many states and private agencies are
running successful public information campaigns to raise
awareness of the plover's plight. In Michigan, residents
of coastal communities where the birds nest have been
contacted by an žambassadorž and provided with
information about the plight of the plover.
What Can I Do to Help Prevent the Extinction of Species?
- Learn more about the piping plover and other
endangered and threatened species. Understand how the
destruction of habitat leads to loss of endangered and
threatened species and our nation's plant and animal
diversity. Tell others about what you have learned.
- Write to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or your
state fish and game agency to learn more about
endangered and threatened species.
- Join a conservation group; many have local
How Can I Get More Information?
Call or write to:
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Division of Endangered Species
Bishop Henry Whipple Federal Building
1 Federal Drive
Fort Snelling, Minnesota 55111-4056
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
302 Manly Miles Building
1405 South Harrison Road
East Lansing, Michigan 48823
Updated for EE-Link / 20 September 1994