Piping PloverCharadrius melodus Ord
Status Rare summer resident. Perhaps 50-60 pairs still breed along the Atlantic shore and along the Northumberland Strait. Early arrivals appear in late March and early April (average 5 April, earliest 21 March, an abnormally early bird was at St. Esprit, Richmond County, on 7 March 1982); most are here by mid-April. Migrants are seen in early August and most are gone by September (average 17 September, latest 9 October); late stragglers were on Sable Island on 24 November 1967 and 17 November 1969. There is a most unusual winter record of one on Sable Island on 25 January 1967 (C. and N. Bell). Human disturbance of the white sand beaches where it breeds accounts for the continued decline of this species.
Description Length: 15-19 cm. All plumages: Forehead and underparts white; feet rich yellow. Adults: Above pale sandy brown; no black bar through face but a black band across front of crown; forehead and underparts white; the single black breast band may be broken in middle. Juveniles: Breast band very poorly defined or lacking.
Breeding Nest: A mere depression scraped in the sand, well above the highest tides, sometimes lined sparingly with bits of broken seashells or a few wisps of dry eelgrass. Eggs: 4; creamy white, evenly speckled with fine spots of dark brown or black. Laying begins about mid-May. On 23 May 1930, a nest at Summerville Beach contained four slightly incubated eggs. On 14 May 1943, on the same beach, a nest contained one egg, laying having just begun. If the first nest is destroyed, there will be another but it will probably contain only two or three eggs. On 13 June 1928, two nests at Summerville Beach each held one egg, evidence that these were second nestings.
Range Breeds on the Atlantic coast from the Gulf of St. Lawrence south to northern North Carolina and locally in central North America. Winters from South Carolina to the Gulf States and casually further south.
Remarks There is something ethereal about these ghost-like birds on their nesting grounds. This is particularly noticeable on a cloudless day in June when the sun, accentuating the dazzling whiteness of the sand, and the ocean surf pounding incessantly on the beach combine to impair one's ability to see and hear clearly. Invading their sanctum at such times, one is likely to be made aware of their presence not by sight but by sound, hearing a soft, flute-like pipe-pipe-pipe-pipe repeatedly at short intervals. The note is both sad and sweet, and one finds it difficult to determine the direction from which it comes. This is because the performer is an accomplished ventriloquist. When standing still, it is almost invisible. After scanning all directions of the beach, one detects motion as the bird makes one of its characteristic short runs. One is often startled to realize that the well-camouflaged bird was so close at hand.
When its nest is approached, the sitting bird will leave when the intruder is still some distance away, run to meet him and circle widely, all the while calling plaintively, soon to be joined by its mate. Not until the intruder comes very close to the nest do the birds resort to the ruse of feigning injury to lure him away. On windless days the nest may be located by looking for trails in the soft sand, the nest being their focal point. However, so fine is the sand that even a slight breeze quickly erases the birds' footprints.
In 1985 this bird was placed on the list of endangered Canadian species by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Its decline on the east coast is discussed by Cairns and McLaren (1980). Efforts to increase public awareness with signs placed on Nova Scotia beaches where it nests have apparently enhanced breeding success in some places.
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