The Secret Life Of Piping Plover


DVD Extras & Director’s Commentary.

This itty bitty film does not serve much of a purpose beyond my own, personal amusement. But there are a few instructive things contained within so we might as well discuss them in these here Bonus Features.

  1. PIPL Don’t Fly: The reason Piping Plover tricked me into liking birds is that I never really see them fly so I don’t really think of them as birds. They are beach creatures. More like crabs or something. They spend the majority of their time on their breeding grounds crawling around in the sand. I don’t think many people realize this; it confuses people why you would close off a beach for a bird. I certainly never understood it growing up. Sadly, many scientists and wildlife managers don’t believe there are people as ignorant as me out there. But there are a lot of us. Once you’ve learned to see our Piping Plover scratching out a living under our feet, both why and how we should help them out comes into sharper focus.
  2. The Creep: Piping Plover don’t always creep quite as much as they do in this little film, but when they do, it is adorable. They usually creep when they are up to something; just like us. Especially when sex is involved.
  3. The Peek: Avian predators are a problem for Piping Plover. Their primary defense is that they are really well camouflaged. But still, you will see them cast a weary eye skyward sometimes. What’s interesting is that they only do this sometimes. They surely do it when they are tracking a specific threat in the air which they are aware of. But often when resting, or preening, they won’t look up at all. They most often look skyward repeatedly when they are up to something, and know they will be busy, active, and exposed. If they have to walk across a large swath of beach to go get some food, they are more likely to look skyward frequently. They certainly do this a bunch when they are preparing to mate.
  4. The Courtship: This video is an actual courtship between Pete and Phoebe, in essentially real time. The whole thing took a few hours, but this is in essence what happened from start to finish, boiled down to a minute. The whole ritual usually follows a similar pattern. Pete was loafing around when suddenly he got the urge. It is very easy to predict exactly when something is about to go down. When a Piping Plover starts creeping around the beach and checking the sky repeatedly for the all clear, looking a bit paranoid, like Pete in this film, you know it is on.
  5. The Consent: This film plays on the highly ritualized nature of the Piping Plover’s courtship. It really is intricate, and fascinating. Most interesting to me is that the whole ritual seems to be one of progressive consent. Courtship is initiated by the male. It is a slow build of inviting a female into his world… it is a series of careful, very formal, steps. Each one, the male very formally asking the female if she would like to continue. If she will allow him to continue. If she doesn’t, she walks away, and there is nothing for him to do but take a break, regroup, start at the beginning, and try again. There is lots of calling, bowing, fanning, and even marching. Such formality for these little beach bums!
  6. The Steps: The film takes you through the elements of courtship. First Pete awakes from his slumber as if from a dream. He is ready to try to win Phoebe’s heart. So he starts creeping around, scanning the sky for predators as he knows he will be quite distracted, and looking for a good place to build a scrape which will serve as their nest. Once he finds a decent location, he begins calling to Phoebe, to let her know what he is up to… just in case she missed how creepy he’d suddenly become after his little nap. Once he finds what he believes to be a perfect spot, he starts scraping, all while calling to her. In this film, Phoebe comes running over to him almost instantly. It does not always go so smoothly. There were no takers on Pete’s Super Scrape (TM). Ever. When she arrives, he hops out, fans his tail over the scrape, and formally presents it to her for approval. Phoebe hops in, and does a little a scraping  herself. That’s a serious sign of approval. So now it is time to try for eggs. In order to proceed to copulation, Pete begins his adorable “goose stepping” march. It is a high kick march in which he slowly approaches the female from behind. If she lets him get close enough to kick her in the rear repeatedly, she is giving him permission to hop on top and copulate. If you watch closely, you will see Phoebe raise her tail in the air as soon as Pete begins his march. That’s a sure thing. Many females will just take off at this point. Lots of females will hop in a scrape for a test drive… but allowing a marching male to get too close? That’s tying the knot.
  7. Congratulations Pete & Phoebe.