navigation bar
  New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife
njdep home f&w home

Piping Plover - July 2003 Species of the Month

The Piping Plover (Charadius melodus) was the July Species of the Month in honor of the 30th Anniversary of the New Jersey Endangered Species Conservation Act and the formation of DEP's Endangered and Nongame Species Program (ENSP).

This small shorebird shares select behaviors with some of New Jersey residents and summer visitors: they select their "territory" on the beach, nestle into the sand, scurry around at the water's edge, feed their young, and watch life go on around them. This harmonious analogy is misleading though, as the coastal activities of people often conflict with what the piping plover needs to successfully reproduce while here in New Jersey.

Recreational, residential and commercial development along the shore have reduced the amount of coastal habitat available for piping plovers to nest and feed. The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) listed the piping as an endangered species in 1984, meaning it faces extirpation from New Jersey. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Atlantic coast population as threatened in 1986.

Piping plover
Piping plover

Since its federal listing, the Atlantic coast piping plover population has grown from 790 pairs in 1986 to 1,525 pairs in 2001 (USFWS). In New Jersey, the population has remained relatively stable at about 120 pairs, ranging from a low of 93 pairs in 1998 to a high of 138 pairs in 2002.

Due to its precarious existence on New Jersey's beaches, the piping plover remains one of New Jersey's most endangered species. Without intense protection and management it is unlikely that the piping plover population would survive in our state.

Piping plover nest
Plover nest with eggs

Newborn chick in nest

Plover with chick
Plover with chick

Life Can Be "A Beach" for the Piping Plover

  • Hunters and egg collectors decimated piping plovers and other shorebirds in the late 1800s through early 1900s, using their plumes to accessorize hats that were then considered fashionable. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 (as well as changing fashion trends) helped the population to recover throughout the 1930s.

  • Coastal development and increased recreational use of New Jersey beaches caused a second population decline in the decades following World War II.

  • Human disturbance, including vehicular and foot traffic, can crush young birds, and destroy nests. By disrupting parental care, human disturbance also can expose eggs and chicks to killing heat and cold, cut off access to important feeding habitats, and increase the chances of being eaten by predators.

  • Dogs are an especially disruptive, as plover adults react to dogs as they would a fox or similar predator. Dogs also will prey on plover chicks and eggs.

  • Domestic and feral cats are efficient predators of plover eggs and chicks.

  • Natural threats to the piping plover include higher tides resulting from storms, along with predators like foxes, raccoons, skunks, crows and gulls. Trash receptacles from commercial food establishments, as well as food waste left behind by beach-goers, can attract more predator.

Facts of Interest about the Piping Plover

  • Piping plovers return to their breeding grounds in late March to early April. After males and females perform courtship rituals and establish their nesting territory, they form a depression in the sand that becomes their nest. Sometimes the pair will line the nest with small stones or shell fragments.

  • Nests are found on the beach between dunes and the high-tide line. Piping plovers also prefer nesting amid sparse vegetation, which provides them with cover from predators and weather. At the same time, they do not establish nests in areas with dense vegetation (such as among the dunes), which provides cover for predators.

  • Plovers lay as many as four eggs at a time. Hatching occurs about a month later, and the young birds soon follow their parents to forage for food. When predators or intruders are near, the chicks squat motionless in the sand while the adults try to lure away the threat by feigning a broken wing. Plover chicks can fly 25 to 35 days after hatching
  • During the non-breeding season piping plovers inhabit beaches, barrier islands, sandflats and mudflats and look for food in these same areas. They typically consume insects, insect eggs, crustaceans and marine worms.

Erecting exclosure
Erecting exclosure around ne

Electric fence exclosure
Electric fence exclosure around nest

Plover on nest
Protected plover on nest

  • Piping plovers are robin-sized shorebirds with sand-colored plumage, a black neckband, and a black bar across the forehead. It runs in stops and starts on yellow-orange legs and is often identified by its whistling "peep-lo" call.

  • When piping plovers arrive in New Jersey each spring they eat a lot to recover the energy and body weight lost during the long migration from their coastal wintering grounds to the south. Piping plovers winter from North Carolina to Mexico, the Bahamas, and the West Indies. By mid-September both the adult and young piping plovers will have left New Jersey for their wintering areas.
Ways You Can Help
Area closed sign
Volunteer posting sign
  • Stay out of all beach areas that are fenced or posted for the protection of shorebirds and other types of wildlife. Do not approach or disturb piping plovers, their chicks, or their nest sites. Adhere to the advice and direction provided by ENSP staff or volunteers who are patrolling these "off-limits" areas, especially during busy weekends.

  • Keep pets off the beach or far from nesting areas. Even leashed dogs are major disturbance, and dogs are prohibited on most beaches during the summer months.

  • Do not leave or bury litter, food or food containers on the beach, because food attracts predators.

  • Join the DEP Beach Nesting Bird Project - volunteers can assist with nest protection, nest monitoring and public outreach. Visit the website for details or e-mail
Conserve Wildlife license plate Order a Conserve Wildlife special interest license plate for your vehicle. It's tax-deductible, with 80 percent of the payment benefiting New Jersey's Endangered and Nongame Species Program.

Want to volunteer? Enjoy giving presentations? Looking for speakers? The Division of Fish and Wildlife offers two opportunities:The Endangered and Nongame Species Program's Speakers Bureau and the Division's Wildlife Conservation Corps. Visit these sites for details.

Want to learn new information quickly about New Jersey wildlife? The Division of Fish and Wildlife offers eight E-mail "mailing list" choices to the public. Visit the E-mail List Subscription Page to learn more about this free service and how to sign up.

Join the Conserve Wildlife Foundation and/or make a donation NOW!
Additional Sources of Information
  Adobe Acrobat Some files on this site require adobe acrobat pdf reader to view. download the free pdf reader  
bottom footer contact dep privacy notice legal statement accessibility statement nj home nj home citizen business government services a to z departments dep home

division of fish & wildlife: home | links | contact f&w
department: njdep home | about dep | index by topic | programs/units | dep online
statewide: njhome | citizen | business | government | services A to Z | departments | search

Copyright © State of New Jersey, 1996-2004
Department of Environmental Protection
P. O. Box 402
Trenton, NJ 08625-0402

Last Updated: October 7, 2004