From: Latti, Mark
Subject: IFW Outdoor ReportFor Immediate Release
April 25, 2005
Sharing The Beach With Piping Plovers
Its time to round up your beach towel, swimsuit, sunglasses, sunscreen, and sand pail and shovel; beach weather is just around the corner. But latter this summer, when you set up your beach chair and stake out your corner of the sand, be mindful of the signs, fenced sections of beach, and nest exclosures that identify areas being managed for nesting piping plovers.
By giving the birds space and following a few rules of beach etiquette, both people and piping plovers can share the beach.
The piping plover is listed as Endangered in Maine because of its extreme
rarity in the State and the threats it faces during the nesting season.
Piping plover populations declined in the 1800s because of unlimited harvesting for sustenance and the millinery trade [ladies' hat decorations]. After WWII, many Maine beaches were rapidly developed for summer homes, and the population of plovers and other beach nesting birds, such as the least tern, plummeted. By 1981, only seven pairs of piping plovers could be found in the state. The piping plover is also listed as Threatened by the federal government.
The piping plover is a small, handsome shorebird found on sandy beaches and dunes along the Atlantic Coast from South Carolina to Newfoundland,
including southern Maine. Its back is a uniform sandy brown color; the
underside is white and is interrupted by a single narrow black band around
the neck; the bill is short and orange with a black tip; the legs are orange.
Habitat for the piping plover includes beaches, mudflats, sandflats, tidal
ponds, and salt marshes. On the Atlantic coast, nest sites include open
sand, gravel, or shell-covered beaches above the high tide line. Sand spits, barrier islands, blowout areas in dunes, and dredge spoil are preferred nesting areas.
After returning to breeding beaches in Maine in April, males establish and defend a territory by elaborate aerial displays. The breeding territory includes both feeding and nesting habitat. When the male has attracted a mate, one of several scrapes is selected as the nest site and is lined with pieces of shell and tiny pebbles. Over a period of six days the female lays a clutch of four eggs. Incubation begins after the laying of the last egg and lasts for about 28 days. Both sexes share with incubation and feeding young. If the first nest is destroyed, females may renest.
Within hours of hatching, the precocial chicks leave the nest but stay close
to be brooded by the parents. Parents lead the chicks away from the nest
scrape a day or two after hatching, but usually remain within the established territory. Chicks remain close to parents and alternate between
feeding and being brooded. Adult females may desert broods within 5-10 days after hatching. Fledging occurs in 28-32 days.
After fledging, adults and young congregate on feeding areas prior to
migration. Piping plovers feed primarily on marine worms and small
crustaceans found in the "splash zone," although they also feed extensively in piles of wrack (seaweed) that accumulates at the high tide line.
Intertidal flats and back dune ponds are also used for feeding. Plovers can
live to be 14 years of age.
Maine's population of piping plovers has been monitored annually since 1981. During this period, the number of pairs reported has fluctuated between 7 pairs at 4 sites in 1983, to 61 pairs at 19 sites in 2003. Productivity of piping plovers in Maine, measured as number of chicks fledged per nesting pair, has ranged from 0.9 chicks per pair in 1981 to 2.5 chicks per pair in 1991. Statewide productivity since 1984 has been among the highest documented in any Atlantic Coast state or province.
In 2004, there were 55 pairs of nesting piping plovers that produced 80
fledglings. Productivity was 1.45 chicks fledged per pair. Productivity in
Maine has exceeded 1.7 chicks per pair in 11 of the past 15 years. There
were 76 nesting attempts documented in 2004 and of these 39 hatched, 21 were abandoned (likely due to disturbance by predators), 12 were destroyed by tide and 4 were destroyed by predators. In 2003, 61 pairs of piping plovers nested in Maine, at 19 sites, and produced 78 fledglings. Productivity in 2003 was 1.28 chicks/pair.
Habitat loss and degradation, human disturbance, and predation threaten the recovery of this species. Over two-thirds of Maine's 30 miles of beaches
have been lost as nesting habitat for piping plovers because of construction of jetties, seawalls, and high density housing. Maine's beaches are used by tens of thousands of visitors annually during the plover-nesting season.
Beach users can crush nests and chicks and disturb feeding birds. Pets
(dogs and cats) destroy nests and harass plovers. Vehicles required for
beach maintenance activities, especially beach sweeping and garbage
collection can crush eggs and chicks and alter habitat. Beach sweeping and removal of the wrack line also eliminates valuable feeding habitat. Garbage left on beaches attracts predators, including foxes, skunks, raccoons, crows, and gulls, all of which readily prey on plover eggs and chicks.
Beach restoration and "nourishment" activities can have a net benefit for
plovers if done in the off-season, but also may attract birds to high human
use areas. Without intensive management, these threats would rapidly reduce Maine's plover population to near-extinction.
The overall population trend for the piping plover in Maine, however, has
been one of increase, because of intensive management at nesting sites and the cooperation of private landowners and municipalities. Piping plover
management begins in April when biologists from Maine Audubon Society [MAS] and the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife [MDIFW] begin erecting stake-and-twine fencing on beaches as soon as nesting sites of piping plover are defined. The primary purpose of this fencing is to keep people and pets away from nesting birds.
MAS and MDIFW biologists request permission from landowners and
municipalities to begin this fencing at or near the high tide line and
continue it back into the dune grass, including at least some of the
sparsely grassed area that provides habitat for piping plover chicks. They
place signs around the perimeter of the fencing to warn people not to enter
the nesting area.
Once a plover nest is found, biologists place an exclosure around it. The
exclosures consist of 30-50 feet of wire fencing with 4-5 metal posts spaced evenly throughout to support the fencing. The exclosure is placed around the nest so that, once erected, the plover nest is in the middle of the
circle. Blueberry netting is cut into 14-17' circles, or in some instances squares, and draped over the top. The excess is bunched up and fastened
tightly across the top of the fencing using zip ties to diminish the opportunity for entanglement. The twine tops used in the past have been
virtually phased out in Maine. Setting up an exclosure generally takes no
more than 20 minutes from start to finish. Once completed, the behavior of
the adults is monitored to see when and if they return to the nest.
Sometimes electric fencing is installed around an exclosure to discourage
predators, such as foxes. Fiberglass stakes with two plastic insulators are
placed 24 inches apart and encircle the exclosure. The posts are tilted
inward and two strands of conductive ribbon are stretched around the posts on the insulators. The insulators are then adjusted to 10 and 24 inches above the sand, respectively, and the conductive ribbon is electrified using 8 D-cell batteries.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife guidelines for using exclosures to protect piping
plovers state that exclosures should be constructed after a full clutch of
eggs has been confirmed. This guideline serves to limit abandonment from
the disturbance caused during the erection of an exclosure. Exceptions may be approved by state agencies for beaches where egg predation is very likely. Maine's heavily developed beaches often provide easy access for predators, and thus we routinely construct exclosures around partial
In addition, MAS and MDIFW biologists and MDIFW game wardens patrol nesting areas several times weekly to deter dogs, conduct public outreach, and monitor nests and chicks. In some instances, programs to deter or remove nest predators have been initiated. Biologists collect population and productivity data each year to monitor population health and recovery
status. Paired and unpaired individual piping plovers are recorded. Once
plover nests are located, total numbers of eggs, chicks and fledglings are
recorded. In some communities, municipalities help with monitoring and
management activities. As a result of a new beach management plan with
residents of Wells and Drakes Island beaches, over 20 volunteers monitored plovers on their beach.
Intensive management has enhanced piping plover productivity and survival of young, and numbers have steadily increased The twenty-five sites that are regularly monitored and managed include Ogunquit Beach in Ogunquit; Moody, Wells and Laudholm beaches in Wells; Crescent Surf and Parsons beaches in Kennebunk; Batson River (Marshall Point) and Goose Rocks Beach in Kennebunkport; Fortunes Rocks Beach and Hills Beach in Biddeford; Goosefare Brook (Kinney Shores) and Ferry Beach in Saco; Old Orchard Beach in Old Orchard Beach; Pine Point, Western, Scarborough and Higgins beaches in Scarborough; three beaches at Ram Island Farm and Crescent Beach State Park in Cape Elizabeth; Seawall, Popham and Hunnewell beaches in Phippsburg; and Reid State Park and Indian Point beaches in Georgetown. Head Beach at the entrance to Hermit Island in Phippsburg has also been monitored occasionally.
MAS biologists annually conduct several training sessions with municipal
staff working on the plover beaches, including lifeguards, beach cleaners,
police officers, animal control officers, volunteer monitors and garbage
collectors. In addition, guided walks, interviews with the media and
informal public programs occur regularly throughout the plover-nesting
season. MAS biologists estimate that they spend fully twenty percent of
their time working with people to gain their compliance with best management practices or beach "etiquette" to enhance piping plover nesting success. MAS publishes an annual piping plover newsletter that is sent to each individual beachfront landowner. This publication now goes out to over 600 people and many landowners look forward to reading the news about the birds on their beach, as well as celebrating noteworthy contributions by private landowners.
MDIFW is grateful for the help of the many groups that help monitor and
manage piping plovers, particularly the Maine Audubon Society. Others
include: The Nature Conservancy, Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bates Morse Mountain Association, and the towns of Ogunquit, Old Orchard Beach, Scarborough, and Wells.
The conservation and recovery of piping plovers in Maine is supported by
federal Endangered Species funds; Loon Plate and Chickadee Check-off funds; hunting license revenue; and a Federal excise taxes on sporting arms, handguns, ammunition, and archery equipment (Pittman-Robertson Fund).