The stocky little piping plover has perfected the art of blending in (even as a fuzzy, ball-shaped chick, pictured). Thanks to sandy-coloured plumage, the shorebirds can hide in plain sight on the wide, gravelly beaches they call home. In fact, they’re so adept at camouflage that sometimes it’s hard to spot them until they run, orange legs flashing.
Most Canadian plovers spend their winters in the southern reaches of the U.S.; by late March, they return to breeding grounds in the plains provinces, near the Great Lakes, or along the Atlantic coast. But year-long, there aren’t many of these birds anywhere: since the ’80s, piping plover population numbers have been very, very low, mostly because of human interference.
The problem? Plovers are ground nesters—and they nest on recreational beaches and shorelines. This means that eggs are always at risk: from beach-goers or ATV riders accidentally destroying the nests, or from predators lured to the beach by garbage. An adult bird will often feign injury to draw a fox, raccoon, or skunk away from the nest, but plovers are so sensitive to habitat disturbance that they might abandon a nest completely if there’s too much foot traffic in the area.
The good news? Piping plover numbers have increased slightly but steadily in the last 30 years because of conservation efforts that focus in part on boosting nesting and hatching success. That’s a big chunk of the battle for the birds—unlike other species, baby plovers aren’t born completely helpless. They can walk and feed themselves almost immediately after they emerge from their eggs. Go little birds, go!
Spring means bird migrations. Check out the new 3D animated maps that show hundreds of migrations.