Lesson Plan

Great Lakes Piping Plover Survival Simulation

Great Lakes Piping Plover

Alice Van Zoeren

Overall Rating

Add your review
Grade Level:
Fifth Grade-Ninth Grade
Conservation, Earth Science, Ecology, Environment, Wildlife Biology, Wildlife Management


Students engage in an activity that simulates 1) the feeding behavior of the piping plover, and 2) factors that disturb both feeding and nesting of endangered Great Lakes piping povers. This activity is designed to get students actively thinking about the piping plover's needs and the things that are threatening this species’ survival.


Upon completion of this activity, students will be able to

  • describe the life history of the Piping Plover  
  • describe the necessary components of suitable Piping Plover nesting habitat  
  • explain how various limiting factors impact the Piping Plover 
  • identify ways that wildlife biologists protect the Piping Plover 
  • describe  positive and negative impacts of our behavior on the survival of Piping Plovers


1. Feeding behavior of the piping plover:  

Piping plovers feed on small invertebrates by pecking at them on the sand or gleaning them off of dune grass and other beach plants.  

Piping plovers move somewhat like a robin while feeding - run, stop, peck. 


2. Human impact on feeding and piping plover survival:  

Humans, by their presence, may prevent plovers from feeding.  

People leave trash on the beach and this attracts animals that prey on the piping plovers, chicks and eggs.  

Kites and kiteboards look like predators and cause piping plovers to stop feeding and expend energy trying to protect their chicks from the kite. Off‐road vehicles on the beach directly or indirectly kill chicks.  


3. The impact of predators on piping plover feeding and survival:  

Dogs, cats, skunks, foxes, raccoons and Merlins (a type of small falcon) prey on adult piping plovers and their eggs and chicks. Crows and gulls prey on piping plover eggs and chicks. The presence of a predator causes plovers to expend time and energy defending themselves and their chicks rather than feeding. 


Before beginning the lesson the teacher should ask the students what they already know about piping plovers. Have they ever had any personal experiences related to piping plovers? The students' responses should be recorded and used in later discussions. The teacher could also ask the students what they would like to learn about piping plovers and add the responses to the list. It is important that the students have some understanding of piping plover natural history and ecology before participating in the lesson. The students should individually read the piping plover background information which is provided with the lesson. The teacher may also ask the students to take turns reading the information to the rest of the class. After reading the background material the teacher can use the accompanying questions to guide a student discussion related to the piping plover. The students could also work individually or in groups to provide written answers to the questions by searching the background information.



For this lesson, you will need the following items:
  • Area: outdoors or indoors (with room enough to move around freely)  
  • 4 small bags or sacks (sandwich bags or lunch bags will work)  
  • 1 beach ball or frisbee, small ball, etc. (something two people might use on the beach)  
  • 1 rope (min. 16 ft. long marked off in 4 ft. intervals) or 5 orange goal cones or other markers to establish boundaries  
  • soda cans, candy in wrappers, a couple of bags of chips, or other such snacks  
  • 1 ‐ 2 bags of dried beans (pinto, kidney, split pea, etc.) (The activity will work best if the beans blend into the floor or ground where you will be running this activity. Paper dots can be used instead of beans if you will be doing this inside and can easily clean up the mess.)  
  • 1 kite (optional activity)  
  • 1 large sheet of paper or whiteboard with appropriate writing implement for recording data. Alternatively you can use a copy of the attached data chart.



The following strategies and questions can be used to review the main concepts and objectives addressed by the simulation activity. The strategies could also be used to assess the students' understandings based on their learning experience. 

  1. List and describe three human activities and how they change the piping plovers' chances for survival. 
  2. How might a human behave while in piping plover habitat to increase chicks' chances for survival? Students could develop possible solutions or behaviors to minimize human impacts on piping plovers.  
  3. Ask the students to create either a visual image or a piece of creative writing that describes the life history and ecology of a piping plover.  
  4. How did the simulation help you to understand the ecology of the piping plover and your connections to this species? Ask the students what seemed realistic about the piping plover simulation and what did not. Students could compare and contrast the simulation with what actually happens in nature. 
  5. Students could make a story book about Piping Plovers based upon what they learned in the activity. 
  6. Students create an educational message (poster, pamphlet, story, etc.) about piping plovers to share with the community. The students would devise methods and strategies to convey the educational message to the public. These educational messages could be sent to agencies with properties that contain piping plover populations.


Off Road Vehicles
An off‐road‐vehicle or ORV is any vehicle that is driven outside of roadways. ORVs on beaches affect piping plover chicks in several ways. The deep tracks they create generally run parallel to the water's edge so the plover chicks must cross them to get to the shore for food and water. As they try to cross, chicks often get stuck in the tracks and can't get out. In addition, while they are stuck, they are frequently run over by a second ORV.  Plover chicks' natural defense of freezing in place to hide from danger, also makes them likely to be run over.  The ORV driver isn't likely to even see the chick hidden in the sand ahead. ORVs on beaches are a very real and significant problem for plovers. There are regulations governing where ORVs may be used. Have the students research the ORV regulations in their region that may impact piping plover populations. If you're a responsible ORV operator, does this mean you won't affect the survival of piping plover chicks? 

Additional Resources

 Piping Plover Summer by Janet Riegle (2008 Raven Publications, Inc.  Ely, MN) - Picture book with accurate information about Piping Plover behavior, biology and protection. 

www.fws.gov/endangered/i/B69.html  - US Fish and Wildlife Service website about Great Lakes Piping Plovers. 

www.waterbirds.umn.edu/Piping_Plovers/piping1.htm - University of Minnesota website about Great Lakes Piping Plovers. 

www.nps.gov/slbe/naturescience/pipingplover.htm - Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Piping Plover information. 

www.ecos.fws.gov/docs/recovery_plan/030916a.pdf  - US Fish and Wildlife Service document. Great Lakes Piping Plover Endangered Species recovery plan. 

www.birds.cornell.edu/ - A great deal of general bird information and many citizen science projects. Also a sound and video library. Cornell's information about Piping Plovers - www.birds.cornell.edu/AllAboutBirds/BirdGuide/Piping_Plover.html


adaptation, beach, behavior, breeding season, brood, camouflage, captive rearing, display, disturbance, endangered, exclosure, fledge, habitat, management, migration, nest, precocial, predation, recreation, shorebird, territory