Created by the Grade 3 class of 2002 - 2003
Hillside Elementary School
Each year our class studies endangered animals. We try to teach ourselves and other people about the endangered animals here in Saskatchewan where we live. We also try to find out what we can do to help these animals and teach other people what they can do to help too. This year we studied a little bird, the piping plover, which is a relative of the killdeer.
The piping plover is an endangered bird that lives only in North America. Its habitat is sandy, pebbly beaches. In the summer piping plovers breed and nest beside lakes in the prairies of the United States and Canada. Some also nest along the Atlantic Ocean in Canada and the northern United States. In August they fly south to live on beaches along the southern Atlantic Ocean in the United States, the Gulf of Mexico, or the Carribean Sea.
The piping plover is a small, long-legged shorebird. It weighs between 45 and 65 grams and is about the size of a bluebird. It is about 25 cm long. Piping plovers are gray and plain brown which helps them camouflage against the sandy, pebbly beaches where they live. Their bright orange legs match their orange,black-tipped bill. The plovers head and back are light brown. It has a white rump, a partly black tail, a black band on its white forehead, and one black belt or breast band that stands out against its white breast. Piping plovers can live up to 14 years, but most only live to be about 5 years old.
Feathers and Wings
The piping plovers feathers are sandy, white, grey and black. Piping plovers shed their feathers, which is called molting. This keeps their feathers in good shape for their migration flying. Their winter feathers are slightly lighter in colour than their summer feathers. All piping plovers start with feathers called down. Their secondary feathers are body feathers. Their last feathers are called flight feathers.
The piping plovers wings are triangular. They have dark spots to help camouflage them in their habitat. Their wing span is 37.5 cm.
Bill, Legs, and Feet
The bill, legs, and feet of the piping plover are adapted to help it catch food. First, the piping plover has a black tipped orange bill. It has a short pointed bill. Because it catches insects and worms on the surface of the water or sand, and does not probe deep in the sand or water, it does not need a long bill like many other shore birds. Second, its long thin legs are not covered in feathers which would only get dirty and wet along the shore where it nests and hunts for food. Its legs and bill lighten in colour from orange in summer to yellow-orange in winter. Third,the piping plover has three long toes that spread to keep it from sinking into the wet sand. Instead of snowshoes, their feet act like sandshoes!
The piping plover eats insects, larvae, and marine worms. It hunts its food in the early morning and early afternoon. The piping plover uses its short, stubby bill to catch its prey along the shore. It catches food on the top of the sand or water. Because it has no teeth, it uses a gizzard to help it digest its food.
The piping plover got its name from its 2-noted piping call that sounds like an organ. The piping plover communicates by chirping loudly. It can act like a ventriloquist so that youre not sure where it is calling from. To attract a mate a male will fly loops at a height of 35 metres in the air and the male also dives at the female. Then the male dances on the ground by standing straight, beating his feet fast or marching, and spreading his feathers.
The Piping Plover nests in sand. First, the male scrapes holes in the sand with his feet. Second, the female picks the best nest. Next, they put pebbles in the nest so the eggs stay dry. Then the plovers lay 2 to 4 eggs. The female lays one egg every second day. The top of each egg points to the middle of the nest. The color of the eggs is a sandy color with black specks. Then the male and female take turns warming the eggs 27 to 29 days. If the eggs get too warm, the adult birds will wet themselves in the water, and then let the water drip onto the eggs. Finally, the eggs hatch in early June.
piping plover chicks hatch in June. They hatch one at a time.
They are covered in a sandy-coloured down that is almost the same
colour as their surroundings. They can walk on their own and feed
themselves on insects and worms found on the surface near their
nest almost as soon as they hatch. If they are scared they sit
still and freeze, while their parents pretend to have a broken
wing and try to get the predator to follow them away from the
chicks. When they start to grow feathers they have black specks.
The chicks begin to fly between 20 and 28 days after hatching. By
the end of July they can fly well. Piping plovers leave their
summer homes in early August to migrate south to their winter
A plover protects its nest or chicks by pretending it has a broken wing and trying to get the predator to follow it far enough away until the plover can fly off. Their main form of protection is camouflage. A plover sitting still can hardly be seen in its sandy, pebbly habitat. The eggs and chicks also blend in perfectly with their surroundings. The chicks know to crouch down and sit still if a predator comes near and then one of the parents will try to get the predator away with its broken wing display.
Why Piping Plovers Are Endangered
There are about 5900 piping plovers left in the world. They are endangered for many reasons. In the 1800s and early 1900s they were killed by hunters. Their feathers were used to decorate hats. Their meat was eaten on toast. Today they are losing their habitats. Flooding takes away the beaches for nesting. If the beaches are too dry, weeds start to grow and the plovers have nowhere to nest because they dont nest in weeds. They are eaten by predators including cats and dogs whose owners live near or walk on the beaches. Also, the plovers nests are sometimes flooded by spring run off or destroyed by humans. When the chicks hatch, they sometimes get stuck in deep tire tracks or hoof prints. Cattle and other animals step on them. That is why the piping plover is endangered.
What Is Being Done to Save the Piping Plover
Many things are being done to save the plover. For example, SaskPower has started helping the piping plover in Saskatchewan. Some years in the past, no chicks at all survived along Lake Diefenbaker. Nests can flood as does the habitat for chicks. The Saskatchewan plover population has decreased by 31 percent since 1991. Spring run-off water from the mountains is stored in Lake Diefenbaker in order to make power. SaskPower will control water levels of Lake Diefenbaker to give plovers a safer nesting beach. Also they will help move nests during floods. They will also teach people how not to disturb plovers when they are nesting.
Other things have also been done. There are laws to protect them from hunters. Some volunteers are also putting cages around nests that let the plover in, but keep predators out. Some ranchers are also keeping livestock off beaches by watering them with a pipeline and watering troughs.
There are things all of us can do. We should keep beaches clean, look where were stepping on a beach, and not pick up a bird that appears to be hurt. People should also keep pets on a leash when walking on a beach. Finally, people should not drive on beaches where piping plovers nest.
Piping Plover Timeline
Strange But True Facts
First, did you know that the Egyptian Plover is known to pick pieces of food out of the Nile crocodiles mouth? Second, the Snowy Plover is known to stand on one leg while sleeping. Third, the Killdeer Plover is called that because he can call his own name. Fourth, plovers have a habit of foot paddling when they eat. The plover hits the ground with his foot and worms think the noise is rain. The worms go up to the surface where they are eaten by plovers. Fifth, the Black-bellied plover flies quickly, in small groups, so its hard to shoot. Its known that this plover actually changed its stopover points to avoid hunters!
True or False
After reading our report, try our True or False quiz.
|1.||T||F||Piping plovers like people near their nests.|
|2.||T||F||The piping plover protects its chicks by diving and pecking at predators.|
|3.||T||F||The female piping plover lays 2 to 4 eggs.|
|4.||T||F||The piping plovers live on every continent except Antarctica.|
|5.||T||F||The piping plovers main food is grasshoppers.|
|6.||T||F||The piping plover feathers are brightly coloured.|
|7.||T||F||Plovers were once hunted for their meat which was spread on toast.|
|8.||T||F||Plovers have orange legs.|
|9.||T||F||Piping plovers got their name from the sounds they make.|
|10.||T||F||Piping plovers can fly almost immediately after hatching.|
|11.||T||F||A piping plover has a short pointed bill that changes colour from winter to summer.|
Sources of Information
1. Chandler, Robbins, Bertel Bruun, and Zim. Birds of North America. New York: Golden Press, 1983.
2. Ouellet, H. Piping Plover. Threatened Canadian Wildlife. June, 1979.
3. Piping Plover. Canadian Wildlife Service. http://www.cws-scf.ed.gc.ca/hww-fap/hww-fap.cfm?ID_species=33&lang=e.
4. Piping Plover. Saskatchewan Species at Risk. Regina: Saskatchewan Environment and Resource Management. May, 2001.
5. Piping Plover: A Vanishing Animal. http://www.gov.nf.ca/snp/AnimalCare/EndSpecies/PipingPlover/PipingPlover.htm#3.
6. Piping Plover Numbers Vary.. Birders World. June, 2002.
7. Rediger, Pat. SaskPower Works to Save the Piping Plover. HiLines. Summer, 2002.