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Piping Plover Entangled in Fort Myers Lays Successful Nest

July 8, 2024
piping plover

A banded piping plover (Charadrius melodus) nicknamed Pepper had its first successful breeding season in Illinois after being entangled in human hair in December near Bunche Beach in Fort Myers. 

SCCF helped untangle the shorebird after receiving reports that it was potentially tangled in monofilament. 

“Upon further inspection, Pepper had human hair wrapped around his foot. Unfortunately, one of his toes was black and eventually fell off due to lack of circulation, but the rest of his foot was spared,” said SCCF Shorebird Biologist Audrey Albrecht. “He recovered quickly, foraging and behaving normally until he departed from Florida in mid-May.” 

During the nonbreeding season, SCCF’s shorebird team partners with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to complete migratory shorebird surveys at Bunche Beach, which includes re-sighting banded birds like Pepper. Bunche Beach is considered a critical habitat for piping plovers, which are federally protected under the Endangered Species Act and Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

“Banded piping plovers from Canada, the Great Plains, the Great Lakes, and the Atlantic coast have all been spotted at Bunche Beach during the nonbreeding season,” Albrecht said.  

Both snowy plovers (Anarhynchus nivosusand piping plovers have a light sandy gray mantle, white chest, and black bill in their nonbreeding plumage — the easiest distinguishing feature between the two are the piping plover’s orange legs. Piping plovers can also be mistaken for the semipalmated plover (Charadrius semipalmatus) but are much lighter in color than semipalmated plovers. 

Pepper was first seen by SCCF volunteers and staff in August 2023. By reporting its band tag, “H5,” to the Great Lakes Piping Plover Project, they soon learned that Pepper was a captive-reared piping plover. 

If you see a banded bird and aren’t sure where to report it, please email

“After one of Pepper’s parents was preyed upon by a merlin in New York, biologists determined the eggs could only survive in captivity with the assistance of veterinarians,” Albrecht said. 

Pepper was hatched and reared at Michigan Biological Station and released at Illinois Beach State Park in July 2023.

piping plover
Piping plovers breed up north and are only present in Southwest Florida from late summer through April or May. Piping plovers from the Great Lakes region are federally endangered, while other populations are federally threatened.

After wintering in Florida, Pepper traveled back to Illinois for the breeding season, where he found a mate named “Blaze,” another captive-reared piping plover that was released at the same site. Blaze spent the winter in North Carolina and returned to Illinois Beach State Park only one day after Pepper. 

The pair successfully laid four eggs, and three of the four eggs hatched as of June 27, according to the Lake County Audubon Society. The remaining egg did not hatch and is considered nonviable.

“Piping plovers face a host of threats from human impacts, climate change, and habitat disturbance, so we were happy to see Pepper and Blaze have a successful clutch this year,” Albrecht said. “Monitoring these shorebirds while they’re in Florida contributes to the efforts of our partners up north to conserve this species.”


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