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Piping Plover

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Piping Plover in the nestThe Piping Plover has a widespread, but sparse distribution across the aspen parkland, northern fescue grassland, and mixedgrass regions of southern Alberta. The first breeding record for the province was at an unspecified lake near Camrose in 1930. However, there were no extensive surveys of Piping Plover breeding sites prior to the 1980s. In 1991, the first international Piping Plover census was conducted across North America. In Alberta, 47 water bodies were surveyed. Plovers were detected on 27 lakes, with the highest counts being found on Killarney Lake (22 birds), followed closely by Dowling (21) and Handhills (20) Lakes. Several new breeding sites were discovered during the next few years, and the next international census in 1996 was extended to include 103 lakes. Plovers were found on 31 water bodies, with the highest populations (54 birds) being detected on Dowling and Handhills Lakes. Overall, Piping Plovers have been reported from at least 60 water bodies in the province during the breeding season. However, changing habitat conditions mean that not all lakes will support breeding pairs, in any given year. Of 46 sites surveyed in both the 1991 and 1996 censuses, 16 supported breeding plovers in both years, whereas 10 sites had plovers in 1991 but not 1996, and four supported birds in 1996 but not in 1991. Furthermore, lakes that consistently support Plover populations can vary widely in the number of birds present. These variations probably result from differences in the availability of suitable nesting substrates, which tend to be localized on lakes and strongly affected by small variations in water levels. 

The breeding range of the Piping Plover is restricted to North America. Three distinct populations are recognized: the Atlantic coast population, which breeds from southwestern Newfoundland to South Carolina; the Great Lakes population, which is now restricted to southern Lake Superior and northwestern Lake Michigan; and the Great Plains population, which breeds from central Alberta to Lake of the Woods in Ontario, and south to northern Oklahoma. All populations are migratory, and winter on the Atlantic seaboard of the southeastern United States, along the Gulf Coast of the United States and Mexico, and on some Caribbean Islands. Limited banding information suggests that birds originating on the Great Plains winter primarily on the Gulf Coast. A single bird banded at Handhills Lake wintered for three consecutive years on Marco Island, on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Observations at inland sites during the migration period are limited; most birds probably travel nonstop between breeding and wintering areas.

Reprinted from Alberta Wildlife Status Report No. 1 (1997), with permission from Alberta Sustainable Resource Development.

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