Piping Plover - Sauble Beach, Ontario, Canada
The Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus) is a small sand-colored, sparrow-sized shorebird that nests and feeds along coastal sand and gravel beaches. The adult has yellow-orange legs, a black band across the forehead from eye to eye, and a black ring around the neck during the breeding season is often bigger on male, try to attract female. It runs in short starts and stops. It is difficult to see when standing still as it blends well with open, sandy beach habitats. Males and females are difficult, if not impossible to tell apart. During the breeding season the males generally have a thicker black band around the neck while females have a thinner band.
There are 2 subspecies of Piping Plovers: the eastern population is known as Charadrius melodus melodus and the mid-west population is known as Charadrius melodus circumcinctus. The bird's name is derived from its plaintive bell-like whistles which are often heard before the bird is visible.
Total population is currently estimated at about 6,410 individuals. A preliminary estimate showed 3,350 birds in 2003 on the Atlantic Coast alone, 52% of the total. The population has been increasing since 1991.
Their breeding habitat includes beaches or sand flats on the Atlantic coast, the shores of the Great Lakes and in the mid-west of Canada and the United States. They nest on sandy or gravel beaches or sandbars. These shorebirds forage for food on beaches, usually by sight, moving across the beaches in short bursts. Generally, Piping Plovers will forage for food around the high tide "wrack line" and along the waters edge. They mainly eat insects, marine worms and crustaceans.
In the 1800's and early 1900's the Piping Plover was utilized for its feathers, as were many other birds at the time, as decoration in women's hats. These decorations, called plumes, became a symbol of high society, especially those from larger rare birds. This led to its initial population decline. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 helped the population recover through the 1930's. The second decline in the Piping Plover's population and range has been attributed to increased development, shoreline stabilization efforts, habitat loss and human activity near nesting sites in the decades following WWII.
Critical nesting habitats are now being protected to help the population during its breeding season. Populations have significantly increased since the protection programs began, but the species remains in serious danger. Current conservation strategies include identification and preservation of known nesting sites, public education, limiting or preventing pedestrian and/or off-road vehicle traffic near nests and hatched chicks, limiting predation of free-ranging cats, dogs and other pets on breeding pairs, eggs and chicks, and removal of foxes, raccoons, skunks, and other predators. Measures to protect breeding and wintering beaches are having mixed results. Roughly $3 million a year is being spent for the U.S. Atlantic Coast population alone.
Source: Wikipedia (All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License)
For more information (background, pictures, experiments and references): The Piping Plover