The piping plover is a small shorebird. Like many other shorebirds, including the whole grouping of plover, piping plovers are curiously plumaged to blend into their surroundings. They have a small body with a white belly and a dry-sand coloured back. They have a single black neck and breast band, and a black head band which is located between the eyes during the nesting season. Immature or “young” piping plovers and adults on their wintering grounds, do not have the characteristic black markings. Their bills are orange with a black tip while they are in breeding plumage; in the off-season their bills are all black. In general, the males have more contrast in their markings — stronger and darker black markings, and a deeper orange to the bill. Telling the difference between males and females, especially young ones, is difficult.

Similar Species

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plovers

This species is very similar to the piping plover. The main difference is the colour of the back. Semipalmated plovers nest in areas with wet and therefore darker sand. Their backs are darker than the piping plovers to allow them to blend into those surroundings. The black markings around the eyes resemble a bandit’s mask.

Semipalmated plovers love to hang out in groups on their migration through Sauble Beach in the spring and fall (compared to the mostly solitary habit of the piping plover). These birds will not stick around for too long, they drop in for a rest and a bite to eat on their way to breeding grounds in northern Canada or in the fall when heading south to their wintering grounds.

Piping plovers get along as pairs (male and female) or as families (one or two adults, with up to four young). If you have spotted a group of piping plover-like birds and there are three or more adults that seem to be “getting along,” in other words no chasing or piping, then you are probably looking at a migrating group of semipalmated plovers.

Killdeer

Killdeer

Killdeer can be distinguished from piping plovers by their size (at least double that of the piping plover), a much darker brown colour on the back and the number of neck bands. Killdeer have two black neck bands, while piping plovers have only one.

Killdeer nest throughout Ontario and are not picky about their habitat. They nest in many areas including lawns, driveways, beach dunes, agricultural lands, and the sides of roadways. This is very different from the piping plover, which only chooses the open areas of sandy beaches to nest.

Gulls

  • Gull
  • Gull

Gulls, commonly referred to as “seagulls,” are often also on the beach. These birds, which usually represent three different species (herring gull, ring-billed gull, great black-backed gull), can be predators of young piping plover. Please avoid feeding gulls whether intentionally or by accident. The parent plovers have been seen defiantly defending their turf and their young; but they are no match for the bigger and more numerous gulls.

Other birds

  • Dunlin
  • Sanderling
  • Sanderling

Other birds you may spot on the beach:

Other shorebirds, including dunlin, sanderling, and “peeps” (a group of similar shorebirds including the least sandpiper and semipalmated sandpiper) also migrate through the area.

Birds of prey can occasionally be seen overhead. Fish-eating ospreys and bald eagles are not a threat to the piping plovers, nor are opportunistic turkey vultures. Merlins, which are small falcons, are a major threat to piping plover adults and chicks. Because of the merlin’s speed, it is best to give the plovers enough space to get away from them.