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I know it was less than a month ago that I included a Piping Plover (PIPL) in with a collection of local shorebirds. But I had the chance to get some (pretty average) photos of baby plover chicks yesterday and just had to do another post on them. They are tiny and cute – and we walked about six hours in soft sand and a fog to get them!!
The Piping Plover is a small, short-billed, little plover of the sandy beach; a group often considered by casual observers to be sandpipers. They nest in much of the southern Canadian grain provinces and down through the Dakotas into Nebraska. But we see them here along the northern Atlantic coast as the beach-nesting little gray ghost that can stop off-road traffic in its tracks (often deep sandy tracks which is where the baby plovers like to hang out). The Piping Plover is light gray on the back and most of the head and they blend in easily with the quartz rich sand of our shoreline. Due to its modest numbers to start with and its use of a highly sought after human resource (the beach) they have been negatively impacted by an ever increasing human population and its recreational activities all along these Atlantic coast beaches – and by agriculture in the west.
There are several plovers in the USA; Killdeer, Black-bellied, Semipalmated, Wilson’s, the three Golden-Plovers, Mountain, Snowy, and the Piping. They do not all live along the ocean but they generally use a wet edge of lakes, ponds, or streams. The Killdeer is the only one that stays away from wet areas (nearly) exclusively. A regular beach-goer might learn the Black-bellied Plover but most plovers are quiet and cryptic and easily overlooked.
The pictures that follow show how they nest, a few adult birds , and the young downy chicks that leave the nest within an hour or two after hatching. The nest itself isn’t much of anything. They never went to architectural school. They will scrape out a depression large enough for the females belly and then lay eggs on the sandy bottom of the scrape. That’s it. There may be bits of shell or small pebbles added to the nest perimeter as the incubation period passes – but it really isn’t much of a nest. Much like the adult birds themselves, the nest blends in. The eggs look like sandy pebbles and they are hard to notice even when you know where they are. All in all a bird that tries not to be noticed.