US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Published in Journal of Wildlife Management (2005) 69(1):160-173


Complete population estimates for widely distributed species are rarely possible. However, for the third time in 10 years, an International Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus) Breeding and Winter Census was conducted throughout the species range in 2001. Nearly 1,400 participants from 32 U.S. states and Puerto Rico; 9 Canadian provinces; St. Pierre and Miquelon, France; Cuba; and the Bahamas visited 2,244 sites covering 11,836 km of shoreline habitat. During the winter census, 2,389 piping plovers were observed at 33.5% of potentially occupied sites (n = 352). Of these, 56.8% had ≤10 birds present. The breeding census recorded 5,945 adults at 777 of 1,892 sites surveyed. More than 80% of sites with piping plovers present had ≤10 birds. Results indicated an 8.4% increase from 1991 but only a 0.2% increase since 1996. Regional trends suggest that since 1991, number of breeding birds increased on the Atlantic Coast by 78% (2,920 birds; 12.4% increase since 1996) and by 80% in the Great Lakes (72 birds; 50% increase since 1996). However, plovers declined 15% (2,953 birds; 10% decline since 1996) in Prairie Canada/U.S. northern Great Plains. Subregional trends since 1991 reflect a 32.4% decline in Prairie Canada (972 birds; 42.4% decline since 1996), a 2.5% decline in the U.S. northern Great Plains (1,981 birds; 24% increase since 1996), 5.5% decline in eastern Canada (481 birds; 14% increase since 1996), although a 66.2% increase on the U.S. Atlantic Coast (2,430 birds; 12% since 1996). While numbers were down in much of the U.S. northern Great Plains since 1996, an increase (460%, 1,048 birds; 67.7% increase since 1991) was detected on the Missouri River. Results from 3 complete species census efforts provide essential data for conservation planning and assessment and illustrate the utility of global censuses for species of concern.