Birds – Piping Plover

(AEgialitis meloda)

Called also . PALE RING-NECK

Length—7 inches. A trifle larger than the English sparrow.

Male and Female—Upper parts very pale ash; forehead, ring around neck, and under parts white; front of the crown and a link of incomplete collar either side of breast, black; inner tail feathers dusky, the outer ones becoming white. In winter plumage the black is replaced by brownish ash.

Range-North America east of the Rockies; nesting from coast of Virginia northward to Newfoundland; winters in West Indies.

Season—Summer resident, March to September; most abundant in autumn migrations.

Very slight differences in the habits of plovers that haunt our beaches have been noted by the most tireless students, and were it not for the piping plover’s notes there would be nothing beyond a reference to its stronger maritime preferences and more southerly nesting range to add to the account of the ring-neck. The piper, much lighter in color, is the lightest species that visits us. It nests among the shingle on our beaches from Virginia to Maine and beyond, where it is next to impossible to discover the finely speckled drab eggs that imitate the sand perfectly; and possibly because it does not pass half its year in Arctic seclusion, as some other plovers do, it is not quite so gentle and confiding as they—this is the sum of its peculiarities. Its pathetically small size, scarcely larger than that of an English sparrow, should be, but is not, a sufficient protection from the gun.

” It cannot be called a ` whistler’ nor even a ` piper ‘ in an ordinary sense,” says Mr. Langille. ” Its tone has a particularly striking and musical quality. Queep, queep, queep-o, or peep, peep, peep-lo, each syllable being uttered with a separate, distinct, and somewhat long drawn enunciation, may imitate its peculiar melody, the tone of which is round, full, and sweet, reminding one of a high key on an Italian hand-organ or the hautboy in a church organ.” The sweet, low notes, it should be added, have an almost ventriloqual quality also, that often makes it difficult to locate the bird by the ear alone.

Retiring to the dunes and meadows back of the beach only to sleep or rest when the tide is high, we most frequently see this active little sprite running nimbly along the wet sands, poking among the shells, chasing out after the waves, and hurriedly picking up bits of food before being chased in by them, or flying above the crests short distances along the beach, usually to escape a deluge from the combing breakers. All its movements are alert, quick, graceful. At Muskegat, where this plover’s nests are found among the terns’, the plover loses little by comparison with those preeminently graceful birds. Around the great lakes scattered flocks are seen in the migrations chiefly; but it is on the secluded Atlantic beaches, comfortably distant from seaside resorts, that we find the piping plover most abundant.

The Belted Piping Plover (AEgialitis meloda circumcincta), a western representative of the preceding, differs from it only in having the black links on the breast joined to form a band.

The Mountain Plover (AEgialitis montana), a distinctly prairie bird, rather than a mountaineer, has grayish brown upper parts, the feathers margined with chestnut; the white under parts grow yellowish on breast, but without belt or patches; the front of the crown and the cheeks black. It is almost nine inches long. It as all the charming grace, quickness of motion, and winning confidence that characterize its clan.