|7/5/2012 10:50:00 AM|
Piping Plover -
by Don ReimerSome years ago I visited Plymouth Beach in Massachusetts. There I viewed Plymouth Rock - barely enough turf for a big-footed person to safely step ashore. Then I hiked the two-mile beach and found the vocal colony of nesting Piping Plovers at its tip. The area was plainly cordoned off and featured several prominent warning signs to alert passersby.
Soon a red rag-topped Jeep sped along the low-tide line and parked within feet of the plover colony. Two squirming terriers emerged from the Jeep and promptly bounded straight ahead into the colony. To compound the dilemma, the offending Jeep driver also sprinted into the beach cover, lecturing the dogs harshly as he pursued them: "GET OUT OF THERE! THERE ARE ENDANGERED BIRDS NESTING HERE!"
This unfortunate episode demonstrates the difficulties that birds can encounter during the critical summer nesting period. The endangered Piping Plover is especially challenged because of its favored high beach nest sites, where it competes for living space with hordes of beach-goers and contends with unattended pets, feral cats and wild predators such as raccoons, foxes, skunks, crows and gulls. This state's 2012 plover nesting season took an unexpected hit when early-June wind and flooding rain wiped out about 33 nests on several Maine beaches. Thankfully, some birds have now re-nested and produced offspring.
The typical plover nest is a simple depression in the high beach sand close to the dunes. Nests are sometimes lined with small stones or fragments of shell. Both parents incubate the four relatively large eggs. The precocial hatchlings are fully clothed in down and are soon able to travel around the nesting zone. Since these birds are so well camouflaged in their sandy beach environment, the fledglings risk danger of being trampled.
In contrast with Maine's other nesting plover, the Killdeer, the smaller Piping Plover has pale upperparts and a single black breast band. From late March to late September, Pipers occupy scattered coastal beaches from Newfoundland and southeastern Quebec to North Carolina. I have also enjoyed seeing them on the northern beach strands of Prince Edward Island. These birds winter from coastal North Carolina to Florida, with a few in the Bahamas and West Indies.
These streamlined little plovers were common along the Atlantic Coast during much of the 19th century but nearly disappeared due to excessive hunting for the millinery trade. Later on, their populations became threatened by habitat loss. Over two-thirds of Maine's 30 miles of beaches have been lost as nesting habitat because of the inevitable construction of jetties, seawalls and high-density housing.
In 2007 the species' total Atlantic Coast population was estimated at 1,890 pairs, declining 6% to 1,782 pairs in 2010. Although they live elsewhere for much of the year, when Piping Plovers are residing here in Maine they are our birds and it's our responsibility to help them survive in an ever-shrinking and shifting habitat.
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