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Small group of piping plovers making noise

STEVE THORPE

For a small relatively nondescript shorebird, the piping plover has been getting quite a lot of press recently. It has been largely absent from Ontario for half a century, but last year and this year, piping plovers successfully bred in southern Ontario.

In 2007 a pair of piping plovers nested at Sauble Beach. This past summer there were nests at Sauble Beach, Wasaga Beach and Oliphant.

Hundreds of naturalists visited one or more of these sites and were excited to see adults with their young.

The piping plover is a small shorebird, somewhat like a miniature killdeer. It is sandcoloured with a black band above its white forehead and a single dark breast-band. It has orange legs and an orange bill. Males and females look very similar.

Other than its time on migration it spends its whole life between the water's edge and the back of the beach.

Piping plovers feed on marine worms, fly larvae, beetles, crustaceans and molluscs, which they capture with their short bills by alternately running and pecking or probing along the shore.

The piping plover nests only in the U. S. and Canada. The breeding areas include the Atlantic coast, the northern prairies and the Great Lakes.

Recently the only nests on the Great Lakes have been in Michigan. In fact in the summer of 2001 a survey showed there were about 1,500 adults in Canada with just one bird in the Great Lakes Region.

The piping plover is listed as endangered under the Species at Risk Act. Its decline is probably due to a number of factors such as human disturbance, loss of habitat and predation.

The piping plover spends the winter along the U. S. Gulf coast and on some Caribbean islands. In March and April they fly north, arriving in Canada in May.

As soon as they arrive the males begin aerial and ground displays in an effort to establish a territory and attract a mate. The males call vigorously while scraping a shallow depression with their feet in the sand. The females inspect the scrapes to determine their suitability as a nest site. If the scrape is acceptable, small pebbles and bits of seashells are used for the lining of the nest.

The female usually lays four buff-coloured eggs in May. Both sexes share the job of incubation, which lasts about four weeks. The young leave the nest within a few hours of hatching and feed on their own but are carefully guarded by the parents. In another four weeks the young are able to fly. Soon afterwards the whole family leaves Ontario for the warmth of the Gulf Coast.



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