Strolling the beaches with Piping Plovers

Our chilly spring weather is finally gone, and summer temperatures mean it’s time to head to the beach… “But watch where you walk! Families of endangered Piping Plovers are out for a stroll too! It’s a great time to see them along the shores of our favourite beaches, but it’s also a time to be watchful. By mid-June, late nesters may still be incubating or have chicks out and about, making them vulnerable to trampling”, explains Shirley Bartz, Habitat Stewardship Coordinator with Nature Saskatchewan. “Piping Plovers’ best defence is camouflage. Nests are just a shallow depression lined with small stones, eggs look like speckled rocks, and chicks resemble sandy cotton balls on tiny stick legs. Although chicks can walk and run within hours of hatching, they are not able to fly for the first couple of weeks out of the nest,” adds Bartz. “So, to give Piping Plovers the best chance possible, we are asking beachgoers and anglers to keep watch around their feet and along shores such as Lake Diefenbaker.”

Piping Plovers are a small shorebird identified by their distinct markings – a black band on their forehead and a single black band around their neck. They also have a bright white belly, grey-brown backs, orange legs, and an orange beak with a black tip. Their look-a-like cousin is the Killdeer, which is larger, browner in colour, and has two black bands around their neck instead of one. “Like the Killdeer, Piping Plovers have a broken wing display: they pretend to be injured to attract potential predators (e.g., you!), and draw them away from their nest. But, it is all an act and the bird will fly back to its chicks once it has lured you far enough away”, said Bartz.

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Piping Plovers will be increasing their fat stores until early August, in order to complete the 3,500 km flight back to the winter beaches along the Gulf of Mexico. “Since Saskatchewan has the highest numbers of breeding Piping Plovers in Canada, we feel a great responsibility to give these endangered shorebirds the best chance possible for breeding success before their long journey south,” said Bartz.

Nature Saskatchewan works with landowners and the public to monitor and conserve suitable shorelines. If you see a Piping Plover please call our toll-free Hoot Line at: 1-800-667-HOOT (4668) or email outreach@naturesask.ca.

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