Plovers belong to a group of birds commonly referred to as shorebirds. Most members of this group are normally found inhabiting beaches, lake shores, marshes and other wetland areas. The piping plover is one of three small plovers that can be found in Colorado. About 7.25 inches in length, this plover is often described as being the color of dry beach sand, a pale gray-brown. When in its breeding plumage, the plumage most likely to be seen in Colorado, it has bright orange legs, a black breastband that may or may not go completely across the breast, a black bar across the forehead from eye to eye and a bill that is bright orange at the base with a black tip.
Range: The piping plover breeds along the Atlantic Coast from Quebec and Newfoundland south to North Carolina, and from Alberta east to Minnesota and the Great Lakes. It winters on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, and north regularly to the Carolinas. In Colorado, piping plovers occur as migrants, arriving around the first of April. Most have passed through by the end of May. They can be found in the eastern part of the state. The Arkansas and South Platte River drainages are the best areas to find these birds.
Habitat: Nesting habitat in Colorado is on sandy lakeshore beaches, sandbars within riverbeds or even sandy wetland pastures. An important aspect of this habitat is that of sparse vegetation. The plover depends on its coloration for camouflage and protection.
Diet: Piping plovers feed on a variety of beach-dwelling invertebrates, including insects, small crustaceans and mollusks and marine worms. Because of their relatively short beaks, they rely mainly on surface-dwelling organisms, or those which live just below the sand surface, for food.
Reproduction: Adults arrive at their breeding grounds in late April. Males make the nests, which are simple scrapes in the ground lined with pebbles and twigs. Females typically lay four eggs and both sexes share the duty of incubation. Incubation generally lasts 26 days.
Endangered status: The piping plover is listed as threatened in Colorado and federally. Human recreational activities at reservoirs, such as beach camping and off-road vehicle use, can impact piping plovers and their nesting and brood rearing. By temporarily closing nesting areas to these uses, piping plovers can be afforded some protection at a vulnerable period in their life cycle.
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