Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Description: The piping plover is a sandy-gray, robin-sized (7 inch, 17 cm) shorebird with one dark breast band. It has a dark stripe across the crown during the breeding season. Other characteristics include a white wing stripe and a white rump that is visible in flight. A common relative, the killdeer, is larger, more darkly colored and has two dark breast bands.
Habitat and Habits: The piping plover is present on breeding grounds from late March through August. It nests on sandbars and sand and gravel beaches with short, sparse vegetation along inland lakes, on natural and dredge islands in rivers, in gravel pits along rivers and on salt-encrusted bare areas of sand, gravel or pebbly mud on interior alkali ponds and lakes. Nests are shallow, scraped depressions, occasionally lined with small pebbles, shells or other material. A clutch of four eggs is usually laid in late May or early June, with hatching in 27-31 days. Both eggs and young are tended by both parents. Piping plovers feed along the water's edge on small insects, crustaceans and mollusks. In South Dakota, the piping plover is a common breeding associate of the endangered interior least tern.
Distribution: Three North American breeding populations of piping plovers are recognized and have the following distributions: the Atlantic Coast from Newfoundland to Virginia; the Great Lakes, excluding the rocky north shores of Lakes Superior and Huron; and the northern Great Plains. The greatest number of piping plovers breed in the northern Great Plains. This breeding population occurs in scattered alkaline wetlands of the north. ern Great Plains and on the Missouri River and its tributaries in the Dakotas and Nebraska.
In South Dakota, nesting occurs primarily on the natural stretches of the Missouri River below the Gavins Point and Fort Randall Dams, although some nesting may occur on tributaries. Piping plovers have also been re ported from Bitter and Waubay Lakes in Day County and Horseshoe Lake in Codington County in northeastern South Dakota. This species overwinters along the Atlantic coast from North Carolina to Florida, along the Gulf coast and in the Bahamas and West Indies.
Conservation Measures: Although the piping plover is a state and federally threatened species in South Dakota, the Great Lakes watershed population is federally endangered. Listed in 1985, the piping plover faces several threats, including habitat disturbance and destruction, and disturbance of nesting adults and chicks. Management techniques continue to be refined, such as the use of plover-permeable fencing to restrict human and predator access to nesting sites.
The piping plover recovery plans stress the need for understanding overwintering ecology as well as ensuring successful breeding. Intensive management and recovery strategies continue to be improved to deal with specific problems and needs of the approximately 300 piping plovers nesting along the Missouri River and on the alkaline wetlands of northeastern South Dakota. South Dakotans can aid in the recovery of both the piping plover and interior least tern by learning to identify these species, by avoiding any disturbance of nesting birds and reporting disturbance by others to the appropriate state and federal authorities.