Methods for monitoring progress toward recovery goals are highly variable and may be problematic for endangered species that are mobile and widely distributed. Recovery objectives for Piping Plovers (Charadrius melodus) include attainment of minimum population sizes within specified recovery units, as determined by two U.S. and two Canadian recovery teams. To assess progress toward these goals, complete surveys of the species' winter and breeding ranges in Canada, the United States, Mexico, the Bahamas, and the Greater Antilles are conducted every 5 years. In 1996, 1200 biologists and volunteers participated in the second International Piping Plover Census, tallying 2515 wintering birds and 5913 adults (2668 breeding pairs) during the breeding census. Winter numbers were 27% lower than those of the first international census conducted in 1991, with substantially fewer wintering birds along the Gulf of Mexico and an overall increase in numbers along the Atlantic Coast. Large numbers of wintering plovers remain undetected. In 1996, the total number of breeding adults was 7.7% higher than in 1991. Regionally, breeding numbers were 31% higher along the Atlantic Coast and 20% higher in the small Great Lakes population, but declined by 5% in the U.S. Great Plains and the Canadian Prairie. Target recovery numbers were met only for Saskatchewan but were approached in Alberta and New England. The results suggest that Piping Plover distribution and habitat use in the U.S. Great Plains/Canadian Prairie region may shift dramatically with water conditions.