Piping Plover Charadrius melodus


Justification of Red List Category
This species has a small population which has declined significantly since the 1950s. However, there have been overall population increases since 1991 as a result of intensive conservation management, so the species is listed as Near Threatened. It is still dependent on intensive conservation efforts, so if these cease, or if trends reverse, then it would warrant immediate uplisting again.

Population justification
The latest census recorded 3,320 mature individuals on the Atlantic coast (41%), 4,662 on the northern Great Plains and prairies (58%), and 110 in the Great Lakes (1%). This totals c.8,100 breeding individuals, equivalent to a population of c.12,000-13,000 individuals in total.

Trend justification
Although the population has undergone a large and statistically significant decrease over the last 40 years in North America (Butcher and Niven 2007), the overall population has been increasing since 1991 as a result of intensive conservation management.

Distribution and population

Charadrius melodus breeds in the U.S.A. and Canada. Regular range-wide breeding censuses are carried out, with that in 2006 recording 8,092 mature individuals (Haig et al. 2005, Elliott-Smith et al. 2009). Populations occur along the Atlantic coast (subspecies melodus), with 3,320 breeders counted in 2006, comprising 41% of the total population (USFWS 2004, Elliott-Smith et al. 2009); in the Great Plains (subspecies circumcinctus), numbering 4,662 breeders, or 58% of the total (Ferland and Haig 2001, Elliott-Smith et al. 2009), and in the Great Lakes region (also circumcinctus), with 110 breeding birds, or 1% of the total, in 2006 (Stucker 2004, Elliott-Smith et al. 2009, Miller et al. 2010). Totals in 1991, 1996, 2001 and 2006 respectively were 1,892, 2,581, 2,920 and 3,320 breeding birds on the Atlantic coast, 2,744, 3,284, 2,953 and 4,662 in the Prairie Canada / U.S. northern Great Plains, and 32, 48, 72 and 110 in the Great Lakes (Elliot-Smith et al. 2009). These data indicate a total population increase of over 70% since 1991. However, it must be noted that these increases are the result of sustained management initiatives, upon which populations remain dependent. Small numbers also nest on St Pierre and Miquelon (to France) (P. Wood in litt. 1999). Less than 60% of birds are recorded in winter (Brush 1995, USFWS 1996b, Plissner and Haig 1997, J. H. Plissner in litt. 1999), mainly from the Carolinas, U.S.A., to Tamaulipas (and patchily Yucatán), Mexico; the Bahamas; Cuba, and Turks and Caicos Islands (to U.K.) (G. Hilton in litt. 2000), but also from Barbados, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Bermuda (to U.K.), Jamaica, Puerto Rico (to U.S.A.), Virgin Islands (to U.K.), Virgin Islands (to U.S.A) and St Kitts and Nevis (Plissner and Haig 1997, P. R. Blanco in litt. 1999, J. Wilson in litt. 1999, P. Wood in litt. 1999). Small numbers in Sonora, north-west Mexico, may represent regular winterers (J. H. Plissner in litt. 1999).


It nests on sandy beaches, sandflats, barrier islands, alkaline lakes, riverine sand / gravel bars, reservoirs, and sand / gravel pits (USFWS 1996b, Plissner and Haig 1997). Ephemeral pools, bay tidal flats and areas of open vegetation are all important brood-rearing habitats (Elias et al. 2000). There is high winter site fidelity (USFWS 1996b, J. H. Plissner in litt. 1999) in sandy bays, lagoons, and algal flats / mudflats (Brush 1995, Plissner and Haig 1997), particularly around sheltered inlets (Cohen et al. 2008). It feeds primarily on small arthropods, particularly beetles such as Bledius opaculus (Majka and Shaffer 2008).


Drought, inappropriate water and beach management, gas / oil industry dredging operations, development, shoreline stabilisation and beach disturbance (including cat and dog predation, and possibly that from native avian species and ghost crabs) are key threats (Hecht 1995, J. H. Plissner in litt. 1999, Elias et al. 2000, Boettcher et al. 2007). Leg related injuries, reducing fitness, have been recorded in birds fitted with anodised aluminium rings (Amirault et al. 2006). Coastal flooding driven by climate change has been noted to cause reduced reproductive success in Virginia, and its importance is likely to increase (Boettcher et al. 2007).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
CMS Appendix II. There were censuses in 1991, 1996, 2001 and 2006 (Plissner and Haig 1997, J. H. Plissner in litt. 1999). It is considered Endangered in U.S.A. and Canada. There is a recovery plan for Atlantic coast breeders (USFWS 1996b, A. Hecht in litt. 1999). The Novia Scotia Piping Plover Conservation Program uses monitoring and site protection to aid species recovery in Nova Scotia, Canada (Abbott 2008). Predator management has increased hatching success (D. Amirault in litt. 1999, A. Hecht in litt. 1999). Seasonal restrictions and public education have limited disturbance (Hecht 1995, A. Hecht in litt. 1999). Measures to protect breeding and wintering beaches are having mixed results; $3 million per year is being spent in Atlantic U.S.A. alone, and this will need to be kept up indefinitely. Nature Canada filed a lawsuit in 2006 against the Canadian Environment Ministry for failing to take necessary measures under the Species at Risk Act, which resulted in a revised recovery plan with critical habitat identified. The Great Lakes population is supplemented by captively bred individuals (Roche et al. 2008).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Determine the importance of north-west Mexico for wintering birds. Continue breeding and wintering censuses (A. Hecht in litt. 1999). Develop action plans for Great Lakes and wintering birds (A. Hecht in litt. 1999, J. H. Plissner in litt. 1999). Protect breeding and wintering beaches, and expand existing measures (D. Amirault in litt. 1999, A. Hecht in litt. 1999, J. H. Plissner in litt. 1999). Create sand-flats near to roosting sites on its wintering grounds, to mitigate against habitat loss (Cohen et al. 2008). Assess the relative effects of different predators on plover populations, and the effectiveness of predator and disturbance management measures (Boettcher et al. 2007). Study causes of nest abandonment, aiming to reduce its occurrence (Maslo and Lockwood 2009). Manage water sympathetically on the Great Plains (J. H. Plissner in litt. 1999). Designate the Laguna Madre de Tamaulipas as a protected area.


18 cm. Very pale, orange-legged plover. Pale grey upperparts, whitish underparts, breeding birds with black neck and breast-band, white forehead bordered by black bar across forecrown, white postocular supercilium, orange orbital ring and short, stubby orange bill tipped black. Non-breeding birds lack black neck, breast and forehead-bands, and bill is all black. Shows white rump in flight. Similar spp. Snowy Plover C. alexandrinus is smaller with blackish legs and thinner bill. Voice Plaintive whistle peep or descending peep-lo.


Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Isherwood, I., Khwaja, N., Wege, D., Harding, M., Bird, J.

Blanco R., P., Wilson, J., Hecht, A., Plissner, J., Amirault, D., Hilton, G., Wood, P.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2020) Species factsheet: Charadrius melodus. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 28/11/2020. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2020) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 28/11/2020.