Sunday, July 12, 2015

Another peek at the piping plover

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This week, we revisit an endangered species we’ve discussed before – the piping plover (Charadrius melodus).   There’s good news about these little shorebirds.  Thanks to several cooperative efforts between wildlife management agencies and organizations, the population of the piping plover has increased from 790 pairs when listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1986, to nearly 1800 pairs today (getting ever closer to the recovery goal of 2000 pairs).  One of the innovative methods of conservation includes protecting wintering grounds, rather than just focusing on breeding grounds (Pover 2013).

When I worked for the U.S. Coast Guard (CG), one of my responsibilities was to encourage protection of endangered species on CG property.  One of the most memorable animals we encountered was the Piping Plover at the CG facility in Cape May NJ.  The staff atpiping plover with chick the facility really worked hard to protect these little birds, which wasn’t always easy.  Piping plovers scratch nests into beach sand and lay their camouflaged eggs in these scrapes.  The eggs are particularly vulnerable to predators, such as gulls, foxes, raccoons, and domestic cats.  Another danger for the eggs and hatchlings is nest abandonment by the adult birds, due to disturbance.  Thus, protection of the plovers is not always popular, because some beaches must be closed during nesting season.  The folks at Cape May did a great job of public education to encourage protection of these little birds – they even held a plover 5K run!
Here are some interesting facts about piping plovers:

  • Plovers eat insects, spiders, and crustaceans
  • Piping plovers are migratory birds.  For the Atlantic coast population, adults lay eggs all along the Atlantic coast during the spring and summer.  Two other populations lay eggs on the shores of the Great Lakes area and on the shores of rivers and lakes in the northern Great Plains.  The piping plovers spend the winter on the Gulf coast or more southern regions.
  • Adults lay 4 eggs in April or May, and the eggs hatch in about 25 days.
  • The first decline in the plover population was due to excessive hunting for the millinery trade during the early 1900s.  After the population recovered to a peak population in the 1940s, beach development and human disturbance again threaten the population.
  • The little plover chicks are so cute!  As you can see from the above picture, they look like little dust balls on long legs!
As we’re in the middle of the summer beach season, what can you do to protect piping plovers?  From the U.S. FWS:
  • Respect all areas fenced or posted for protection of wildlife.
  • Do not approach or linger near piping plovers or their nests.
  • If pets are permitted on beaches used by plovers, keep your pets leashed. Keep cats indoors.
  • Don't leave or bury trash or food scraps on beaches. Garbage attracts predators which may prey upon piping plover eggs or chicks.
  • Write to your congressional representative regarding a bill reintroduced by Rep. Jones (R-NC) (H.R. 819).  The goal of this bill is to block implementation of a National Park Service plan that protects beach-nesting piping plovers and sea turtles from vehicles at Cape Hatteras. High vehicle traffic on Cape Hatteras beaches interrupts nesting and feeding patterns and can kill plovers and turtles.  (Pepper, 2013)

Pepper, Elly.  2013.  “January/February 2013 Threats to the Endangered Species Act.”  NRDC Switchboard.  Accessed 3/4/2013.

Pover, Todd. "Partnering for piping plover: a conservation success story."Endangered Species Bulletin Summer 2012. Gale Science In Context. Web. 8 Feb. 2013.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  2012.  “Piping Plover, Atlantic Coast Population.”  Accessed online:

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