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Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

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North Dakota's Endangered and Threatened Species

Piping Plover
Charadrius melodus

JPG -- Picture and Range Map of Species

Status: Threatened

The piping plover is a small shore bird measuring 6 1/2-7" long and is whitish on the underside and light brown on the wings, back and top of the head. Distinctive markings include single black bands across the chest and forehead. The black bands are not well formed in young birds.

There are three distinct piping plover populations in North America. North Dakota is included in the Great Plains population which is estimated to include about 1,372 pairs (1991). North Dakota's population was estimated at 472 breeding pairs during this same period. Birds in North Dakota were found at 112 different sites in 21 counties.

Piping plovers utilize barren sand and gravel shorelines of both lakes and rivers. About 15 percent of the state's breeding population use barren sandbars of the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers while the remaining birds utilize prairie wetlands in the Missouri Coteau. The birds' selection of alkaline wetlands is most likely because these water bodies are also lacking vegetation which is avoided.

Breeding in North Dakota extends from late April until August. Pairs defend their territory where four eggs are laid in a shallow depression scratched in the sand or small gravel. Chicks hatch in 25 to 31 days and are able to walk and feed on insects and small crustaceans within hours. Plovers that utilize the river have been negatively affected by loss of habitat through reservoir construction. Plovers that use alkaline wetlands are susceptible to pesticides, cattle trampling, and wetland drainage.

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