Piping plover
Charadrius melodus
ITIS Species Code:   176507         NatureServ Element Code:   ABNNB03070
NatureServe Global Rank: 
NatureServe State (NC) Rank: 
Federal Status: 
NC State Status: 
Southern Blue Ridge:  n/a Southern Piedmont:  n/a South Atl. Coastal Plain:  n/a
Land Unit

US Fish & Wildlife Service
US Forest Service
US National Park Service
US Department of Defense
NC State Parks
NC University System
NC Wildlife Res. Com.
NC Forest Service
NC Div. of Coastal Mgmt.
Local Governments
Non-Governmental Org.
Other Public Lands
Private Lands

GAP Status 1-2
All Protected Lands




% of Dist. on
Prot. Lands

8.2 %
0.0 %
5.9 %
70.4 %
9.1 %
0.0 %
0.0 %
0.0 %
5.6 %
0.8 %
0.8 %
0.0 %
0.0 %

52.9 %
% of Dist. on
All Lands

3.7 %
0.0 %
2.8 %
31.4 %
4.0 %
0.0 %
0.0 %
0.0 %
2.5 %
0.0 %
0.3 %
0.0 %
55.3 %

23.6 %
Breeding restricted primarily to Cape Hatteras National Seashore and Cape Lookout National Seashore (Fussell 1994). Nested on Pea Island until introduction of domestic cats in 1908 (Potter et al. 1980).

Found on sandy beaches, primarily on sand flats near inlets (Fussell 1994); in other parts of the species∆ range, also nests on inland lakeshores with little vegetation (Hayman et al. 1986).

Nests on upper stretches of the beach near dunes, usually where there is no vegetation, but sometimes where beach grass is sparse. Usually 200 feet or more away from another nesting pair (Harrison 1975) and often near a large rock or clump of grass, but with no shade provided (Kaufman 1996).


Sandy beaches, especially where scattered grass tufts are present, and sparsely vegetated shores and islands of shallow lakes, ponds, rivers, and impoundments. In migration and winter also mudflats, flooded fields, dredge spoils. In winter, usually on ocean beaches or on sand or algal flats in protected bays (Haig 1992). Most abundant in winter in sites generally consisting of expansive sandflats, or sandy mudflats, and sandy beach in close proximity; usually in areas with high habitat heterogeneity (see Nichols and Baldasarre [1990] for further information on winter habitat associations in the southeastern U.S.). Among winter birds, 51% use ocean beaches, 43% use sand or algal flats in protected bays, and 6% use areas where protected bays meet ocean beaches (Haig and Plissner 1993).

Along the Atlantic coast, breeds mainly on sandy coastal beaches. In the Great Lakes region, breeds on sand and gravel shorelines, and behind foredune among cobble and sparse vegetation on islands (Powell and Cuthbert 1992). In the Great Plains, nests on sand, gravel, and alkaline shores or bars of rivers (Ziewitz et al. 1992) and lakes. Of Great Plains breeders, 60% use shorelines around small alkaline lakes, 18% use large reservoir beaches, 20% use river islands and adjacent sand pits, 2% use beaches on large lakes, and 0.4% use industrial pond shorelines (Haig and Plissner 1993). Nests on ground on high part of sandy shore, also on other exposed shore or on dredge spoils, in areas with sparse vegetation. Nears in or adjacent to least tern colonies in a number of sites in the Great Plains and along the Atlantic coast. In Nova Scotia, may nest within colonies of arctic and common terns. In Minnesota, has nested in common tern colonies. Commonly nests in association with American avocets in North Dakota.

Often returns to the same nesting area in consecutive years (but few return to natal sites). Sometimes shifts breeding location by up to several hundred kilometers between consecutive years. Previous reproductive success apparently does not increase the probability of returning to specific breeding sites (see USFWS 1994). In Manitoba, adults that experienced nest failure the previous year usually changed general nesting location (Haig and Oring 1988). In North Dakota, nesting success was greatest on territories with little vegetative cover and territories with highly clumped vegetation (Gaines and Ryan 1988). On Assateague Island, Maryland and Virginia, fledging success was higher for broods foraging at bay flats or tidal pools than for broods foraging on ocean beaches (Patterson et al. 1991). Finished nest cups, frequently lined with small pebbles or shell fragments, are shallow depressions approximately 2 cm deep and 6 cm in diameter (USFWS 1994).

See USFWS (1994) for many further details on habitat requirements in north-central North America.


Nesting habitat includes sandy beaches, usually near inlets or on washover fans along the Atlantic Coast.

Occupied Landcover Map Units:
Code NameDescription NC Natural Heritage Program Equivalent
378 Ocean Beaches Open beach sand. Upper Beach
375 Hypersaline coastal salt flats Tidal flats within salt marshes, including saltmeadow cordgrass or sea-purslane dominated alliances. Salt Marsh
372 Interdune Herbaceous Wetlands Dune swales with permanently flooded to intermittently exposed hydrology. Species composition depends on salinity and can include cut grass, spike-rush, mosquito fern, and hornwort. Interdune Pond, Maritime Wet Grasslands
371 Maritime Grasslands Dune grass community consisting of sea oats and beach grasses. Dune grass, Maritime dry grassland
View Entire Landcover Legend
Additional Spatial Constraints:
Exclude all area outside of known range.
Cairns, W.E. 1982. Biology and Behavior of Piping Plovers. Wilson Bull. 94(4):531-545.

Flemming, S. P., et al. 1988. Piping plover status in Nova Scotia related to its reproductive and behavioral responses to human disturbance. J. Field Ornithology 59:321-330.

Gaines, E. P., and M. R. Ryan. 1988. Piping plover habitat use and reproductive success in North Dakota. J. Wildlife Management 52:266-273.

Haig, S. M., and L. W. Oring. 1988. Genetic differentiation of piping plovers across North America. Auk 105:260-267.

Haig, S. M., and L. W. Oring. 1988. Mate, site, and territory fidelity in piping plovers. Auk 105:268-277.

Haig, S. M., and L. W. Oring. 1988. Distribution and dispersal in the piping plover. Auk 105:630-638.

Nicholls, J. L., and G. A. Baldassare. 1990. Winter distribution of piping plovers along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States. Wilson Bulletin 102:400-412.

Nicholls, J. L., and G. A. Baldassarre. 1990. Habitat associations of piping plovers wintering in the United States. Wilson Bull. 102:581-590.

Rimmer, D. W., and R. D. Deblinger. 1990. Use of predator exclosures to protect piping plover nests. J. Field Ornithology 61:217-223.

Powell, A. N., and F. J. Cuthbert. 1992. Habitat and reproductive success of piping plovers nesting on Great Lakes islands. Wilson Bull. 104:155-161.

Root, B. G., M. R. Ryan, and P. M. Macer. 1992. Piping plover survival rate in the Great Plains. J. Field Ornithology 63:10-15.

Haig, S. M., and J. H. Plissner. 1993. Distribution and abundance of piping plovers:results and implications of the 1991 international census. Condor 95:145-156.

Shaffer, F., and P. Laporte. 1994. Diet of piping plovers on the Magdalen Islands, Quebec. Wilson Bull. 106:531-536.

Staine, K. J., and J. Burger. 1994. Nocturnal foraging behavior of breeding piping plovers (CHARADRIUS MELODUS) in New Jersey. Auk 111:579-587.

Bent, A.C. 1929. Life histories of North American shore birds. Part II. U.S. National Museum Bulletin No. 146. Washington, D.C.

Andrews, R., and R. Righter. 1992. Colorado birds:a reference to their distribution and habitat. Denver Museum Natural History xxxviii + 442 pp.

Collar, N. J., et al. 1992. Threatened Birds of the Americas. The ICBP/IUCN Red Data Book. Third Edition. Part 2. Smithsonian Institute Press, Washington, D.C.

Ehrlich, P.R., D.S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1992. Birds in jeopardy:the imperiled and extinct birds of the United States and Canada, including Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Stanford University Press, Stanford, California. 259 pp.

Evers, D. C. 1992. A guide to Michigan's endangered wildlife. Univ. Michigan Press, Ann Arbor. viii + 103 pp.

Herkert, J. R., editor. 1992. Endangered and threatened species of Illinois:status and distribution. Vol. 2:Animals. Illinois Endangered Species Protection Board. iv + 142 pp.

U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1989. 1989 summary U.S. Atlantic coast piping plover. USFWS, Northeast region, Newton Corner, MA.

Cross, R. R. 1992. Effects of predator control on piping plover reproductive success. Abstract, 6th Annual Meeting of the Society for Conservation Biology, p. 49.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1992. 1991 status update, U.S. Atlantic coast piping plover. USFWS, Northeast Region, Newton Corner, Massachusetts.

Goldin, M. R., et al. 1992. The effects of human disturbance and off-road vehicles on piping plover (CHARADRIUS MELODUS) behavior and reproductive success. Abstract, 6th Annual Meeting of the Society for Conservation Biology, p. 65.

Haig, S. M. 1992. Distribution and status of piping plovers in winter. Abstract, 6th Annual Meeting of the Society for Conservation Biology, p. 69.

Hecht, A. 1992. Status of the Atlantic coast piping plover recovery program. Abstract, 6th Annual Meeting of the Society for Conservation Biology, p. 72.

Hoopes, E. M., C. R. Griffin, and S. M. Melvin. 1992. Foraging ecology of piping plovers in Massachusetts. Abstract, 6th Annual Meeting of the Society for Conservation Biology, p. 74.

Melvin, S. M., et al. 1992. Demographic responses to management of piping plovers on outer Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Abstract, 6th Annual Meeting of the Society for Conservation Biology, p. 96.

Patterson, M. E., J. P. Loegering, and J. D. Fraser. 1992. Piping plover breeding biology and foraging ecology on Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland. Abstract, 6th Annual Meeting of the Society for Conservation Biology, p. 103.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1994. Draft revised recovery plan for piping plovers, CHARADRIUS MELODUS, breeding on the Great Lakes and Northern Great Plains of the United States. USFWS, Twin Cities, Minnesota. v + 121 pp.

TNC. 1986. Element stewardship abstract:piping plover.

Ziewitz, J. W., J. G. Sidle, and J. J. Dinan. 1992. Habitat conservation for nesting least terns and piping plovers on the Platte River, Nebraska. Prairie Naturalist 24(1):1-20.

Burger, J. 1993. Shorebird squeeze. Natural History 5/93, pp. 8-14.

Fussell, J.O. III. 1994. A birderís guide to coastal North Carolina. Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press.

Campbell, L. 1995. Endangered and Threatened Animals of Texas:Their Life History and Management. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Endangered Resources Branch, Austin, Texas. ix + 129 pp.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1995. Piping plover (CHARADRIUS MELODUS), Atlantic coast population, revised recovery plan. Techinical/agency draft. Hadley, Massachusetts. 238 pp.

Kaufman K. 1996. Lives of North American Birds. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Wilcox, L. 1959. A twenty year banding study of the Piping Plover. Auk 75:129-152.

Cooper, S. 1990. Notes on piper plover nesting at Cape Hatteras National Seashore during 1987. Chat 54:1-6.

Goosen, J. P. 1990. Piping plover research and conservation in Canada. Blue Jay 48:139-153.

MacIvor, L. H., S. M. Melvin, and C. R. Griffin. 1990. Effects of research activity on piping plover nest predation. J. Wildlife Management 54:443-447.

Harrison, H.H. 1975. A field guide to bird's nests in the U.S. east of the Mississippi River. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts. 257 p.

Harrison, C. 1978. A field guide to the nests, eggs and nestlings of North American birds. Collins, Cleveland, Ohio.

Harrison, H.H. 1979. A field guide to western birds' nests. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. 279 pp.

Potter, E. F., J. F. Parnell, and R. P. Teulings. 1980. Birds of the Carolinas. Univ. North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill. 408 pp.

Terres, J.K. 1980. The Audubon Society encyclopedia of North American birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.

American Ornithologists' Union (AOU), Committee on Classification and Nomenclature. 1983. Check-list of North American Birds. Sixth Edition. American Ornithologists' Union, Allen Press, Inc., Lawrence, Kansas.

Raffaele, H.A. 1983. A guide to the birds of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Fondo Educativo Interamericano, San Juan, Puerto Rico. 255 pp.

Hayman, P., J. Marchant and T. Prater. 1986. Shorebirds. An identification guide to the waders of the world. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Burger, J. 1987. Physical and social determinants of nest-site selection in piping plover in New Jersey. Condor 89:811-818.

Byrd, M.A., and D.W. Johnston. 1991. Birds. Pages 477-537 in K. Terwilliger, coordinator. Virginia's endangered species:proceedings of a symposium. McDonald and Woodward Publ. Co., Blacksburg, Virginia.

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Mayer, P. M., and M. R. Ryan. 1991. Electric fences reduce mammalian predation on piping plover nests and chicks. Wildlife Society Bull. 19:59-63.

Mayer, P. M., and M. R. Ryan. 1991. Survival rates of artificial piping plover nests in American avocet colonies. Condor 93:753-755.

Patterson, M. E., J. D. Fraser, and J. W. Roggenbuck. 1991. Factors affecting piping plover productivity on Assateague Island. J. Wildlife Management 55:525-531.

Powell, A. N. 1991. Great Lakes piping plovers:recovery or extirpation? Endangered Species Update 8(9-10):1-4.

10 March 2005
This data was compiled and/or developed by the North Carolina GAP Analysis Project.

For more information please contact them at:
NC-GAP Analysis Project
Dept. of Zoology, NCSU
Campus Box 7617
Raleigh, NC 27695-7617
(919) 513-2853