The Piping Plover is a small shore bird, not much larger than the size of a human adult’s fist!
Like many other shore birds, Piping Plovers are conveniently plumaged to blend into their preferred surroundings of dry sandy beaches. Their sandy-coloured back allows them to disappear from view easily, especially when they remain still. Their underbelly is coloured white.
During the breeding season, adults develop a black breast band around their neck, as well as a black head band located between the eyes. 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.
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 are usually only seen on Lake Huron shores throughout the spring and fall migrations (Piping Plovers, on the other hand, come to our shores during spring and summer). Semis love to hang out in groups with other members of their species or even other shore bird species individuals (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.
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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, gravely areas, 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.