The Piping Plover [Charadrius melodus]
Status: A 1986 survey found fewer than 300 piping plovers in Alberta, mostly near Provost, Hanna and Medicine Hat. Since 1985, this species has been considered endangered by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.
Behavior: Piping plovers probably winter in the southern and southeastern U.S., Mexico and a few Caribbean islands.
Appearance: Small, stocky shorebirds, extremely well camouflaged on sand or pebble beaches.
Food: Small insects, grasshoppers on the surface of the sand along the shoreline.
Breeding: In Alberta, piping plovers scrape out small, shallow nests in bare areas of sand, small pebbles or gravel. They prefer shorelines of prairie lakes and sloughs with heavy concentrations of mineral salts.
In May, the female usually lays four eggs, one every other day. Both adults take turns incubating the eggs until they hatch 28 days later. The young birds can fly by mid July.
Risk factors: Piping plovers compete with people for open sand and pebble beaches, particularly in June and July when young birds are active. Human activity on a beach can result in adult birds being unable to start a nest or abandoning their eggs or young.
Other problems include predators such as coyotes and crows, motorized off-highway vehicles, sloughs drained for cultivation, disturbance by livestock and loss of habitat in wintering areas.
Management and Outlook: The National Piping Plover Recovery Team aims to reach a population of 2,670 adults and maintain it for at least five years. Biologists have used fences around nests for protection from predators.
It is illegal in Alberta to kill or disturb the birds or their nests at any time.
Photo: Alberta Environmental
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