Named for its plaintive bell-like whistles, you may hear the Piping Plover before you see it. These small, stout, sand-colored shorebirds have yellow-orange legs and a black band from eye to eye across the forehead as well as a black band across the chest during breeding season. The male’s chest band is thicker and is the only visual difference between the sexes. They eat marine worms, insects, mollusks, and crustaceans. They are typically not seen in large numbers but in pairs or groups or 3-4 birds. They run when approached. Although the population has been increasing since 1999, there are still only several thousand individual Piping Plovers in the U.S. Like other shorebirds, they were hunted in the 19th and early 20th centuries for their plumage. Then with dwindling numbers, human development and encroachment (including renourishment) of their shoreline habitats further reduced their numbers. They are globally listed as threatened or endangered, depending on location. In Massachusetts, full beaches have been closed to protect the Piper. In other places, limiting access to nesting areas by pedestrians has helped.
On Hunting Island, Piping Plovers may be seen at the northern beaches and near Johnson Creek. They use this area as a “stop over” for refueling on their migratory route. The Department of Natural Resources has roped off areas of the beach to protect them. Because of the presence of the Piping Plovers and other migratory shorebirds on Hunting Island, no dogs are allowed beyond the last groin by the campground. Few visitors and campers at Hunting Island are aware of this, because it is difficult to place signs that are visible to everyone venturing in that direction. With so few Piping Plovers left, it is really important that visitors to Hunting Island help preserve them.
Range: Most of its life, the Piping Plover lives on open sandy beaches in the higher, dryer sections away from water. They winter in the south Atlantic coast and the Caribbean, so they are most likely spotted on Hunting Island during the winter en route. Their summer range is from Southern Canada to central and northeast U.S.
Photos by Carl Berube
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