This Piping Plover with an Orange Band Comes from the Great Lakes

Piping Plovers are small shorebirds that migrate through here on their way back and forth from their northern breeding grounds.  They do a really interesting thing when they feed: they wiggle their foot to bring up worms that might be living under the sand, a process known as “foot trembling.”

Identification tips

We generally see them on their way to or from the nesting grounds, where they stop off with other shorebirds to have a snack on our beaches. They are the same size but much paler than our wintering Semipalmated Plovers, with yellow-orange legs.  Semi-palmated plovers have yellow legs, a darker hood and back, a more complete (and darker) neck ring, and the eye is enclosed in a black mask.  

Bands and Flags for Identification and Research

Last week I was down on Seabrook with Audubon South Carolina looking at shorebirds, and a Piping Plover was right in front of us on the beach, with an orange flag easily visible.  Researchers use these flags to identify the location of banding; the orange flag tells us that we should be talking to the Great Lakes team. (See chart below)  When you report a banded bird, you want to keep careful notes on what you saw.  In only a few hours, we had the ID and history of YOGi, named for his yellow-orange-green bands.

Piping Plovers in the Great Lakes were down to 11 pairs in 1990

From a high of 800 pairs, numbers of Piping Plovers were declining, getting down to a dangerous 11 pairs in 1990.  Captive breeding and protection enabled the program to recover to approximately 70 pairs.

Our piping plover, Yogi, was banded in 2014 as a chick, and has since returned to raise youngsters of his own.  One of those youngsters is Monty, a local celebrity in Chicago, where he made history by choosing a crowded lakefront for his nesting site, becoming the first plover to nest there in 64 years. He and his mate Rose have starred in two documentaries by Bob Dolgan, and the trailers are below. You can follow the Great Lakes Piping Plover page on facebook to see more about these little guys.

Piping Plover Band Type & ColorReport Sighting To
Color Bands (No Flags) on Upper Legs and

Green Flag

Pink Flag and

Black Flag, White Flag, or Gray
Yellow Flag or Cobalt Blue

Orange Flag OR Metal Band on Upper Leg (No Flag) and One or More Color Bands on the Lower Legs
Light Blue Flag and


A Nod to the Piping Plovers of West Meadow Beach

In high school, I took a marine bio class in the summer at West Meadow Beach on Long Island.  As I was researching Piping Plovers, I found this 2016 student video about Piping Plovers on my old stomping grounds.