The 2021 Piping Plover breeding season on the Outer Cape has been unexpectedly robust: 17 pairs of birds with 11 fledged chicks compared to only 7 last year. What’s really exciting? We have more than 2 dozen chicks we’re still monitoring! For us, this is huge. Over the last ten years, the number of pairs has been slowly declining and our birds’ productivity (the number of chicks fledged per pair), at best, has been okay.
The plovers we monitor are nesting at mostly bayside beaches from North Truro to Brewster, plus Tern Island in Chatham. Some sites that used to be somewhat reliable were a bust for the birds this year. Other sites, such as a sanctuary beach on Lieutenant Island, have chicks for the first time in nearly 10 years.
Brewster’s Crosby Beach, a productive nesting beach in recent years, has fledged four young with four more due to fledge (fingers crossed) in another week. Fledging means chicks are capable of flight and less vulnerable to predators. You can read about our field technician Madison Jerome’s experience keeping watch– and doing a fair amount of worrying– about the Brewster birds.
Another pleasant surprise—Mass Audubon’s Tern Island off Chatham has nesting terns again! Approximately 100 pairs of Least Terns have been in residence, with several chicks noted so far. Despite its name, Tern Island hasn’t had a tern colony since 2015. And there are several plover pairs there too, each with chicks!
The Outer Cape’s bayside is not alone in its plover plenitude. Mass Audubon’s statewide coastal waterbird program is monitoring significantly more plover pairs than in 2020 and we’ve heard similar reports from some Cape Cod National Seashore beaches.
It all begs the question—what’s made this year so successful (so far)? Wellfleet Bay science coordinator Mark Faherty, who oversees the Outer Cape coastal waterbird team, including our hardworking volunteers, says it’s almost impossible to know. “It could be good survival rates where our birds spend the winter. At the larger scale, state-wide, it has to be something like that. And then maybe it’s partly crows focusing on other prey or another nearby area is no longer suitable (for nesting).” And, we should add, maybe some better luck.
It would be interesting to know what’s been going right for the birds this summer. But given the fact Piping Plovers remain a threatened species in Massachusetts, we’re just content to see more of them having success.
Our thanks to our dedicated plover volunteer monitors this season: Jeannette Bragger, Nancy Braun, Donna Cooper, Stephen Munroe, and Mary O’Neill.