The Work (and Worry) of Monitoring Piping Plovers

Piping Plover conservation has a way of occupying your mind even if you aren’t actively on the job. Where will that pair at Fisher Beach attempt to re-nest? Are the chicks going to be okay this weekend with all the fireworks? What if a group of dog-walkers ignores all of our signs? You can easily drive yourself crazy trying to anticipate every threat and worrying over things you ultimately can’t control. At sites like ours, where there are typically no more than two or three pairs of plovers, it can feel like any minor threat will lead to disaster. 

Newly hatched plover chicks look so fragile that it seems hard to imagine how any of them survives one night much less the 25-30 days until they can fly.

Monitoring these birds can definitely start to make you feel like an overbearing parent! We have so much hope and perseverance as we try to give the birds the best chance of breeding success possible. And this year, it seems to have paid off! We have had13 hatched nests. While we had struggles, (a lot of nest loss; one pair lost four nests to predators) it’s extremely gratifying to see so many nests hatch and, as of now, eleven chicks fledge.

That total includes a nest at Crosby Landing Beach in Brewster that hatched on June 8th. The two parents were the first pair to arrive at Crosby and I watched the male make the scrape that would eventually become their first nest. On May 6th, I checked the scrape and found that they had laid an egg. Then we began the long and worrisome process of checking their nest and hoping that they could hit each necessary milestone.

Every time you go to check a nest the many potential threats to Piping Plover nests run through your mind, from overwash by an astronomical high tide or storm, to numerous predators, to human disturbance. A lot can go wrong.

This Crosby nest, and many of others this year, found a way to check each box. They were able to lay four eggs and then incubate the nest for the requisite 26 days. Not only did the all four eggs hatch, all four chicks survived and fledged (meaning, they were able to achieve flight). 

Chicks grow fast in just 30 days. This one is ready to fledge!

Getting to the chick stage and watching them grow up, while still nerve wracking, makes all the effort worth it. The culmination of all of our work to protect these birds results in seeing four cotton balls transform into juveniles that can now fly. Our second nest at Crosby hatched on June 27th, almost three weeks later, allowing us to watch the whole process unfold again. I would walk down the beach and see one-week-old chicks sticking close to the adults’ side while past them, the first brood would be looking more and more like adults and starting to test their wings. 

Crosby Landing hasn’t always been a successful beach for plovers. But a combination of educating beachgoers, controlling dog walking, and monitoring events such as July Fourth fireworks may be paying off. Managing predators is often not practical, and we can’t control the weather and tides, but we can be a steady presence and help carve out a small piece of the beach for these hardworking little birds.

Madison removing plover fencing at a successful nesting site in North Truro.

Madison Jerome, Wellfleet Bay’s coastal waterbird field technician, removes fencing on the bayside in North Truro, another successful stretch of beach for plovers in 2021.

3 thoughts on “The Work (and Worry) of Monitoring Piping Plovers

  1. Linnet Tse

    I read this with interest. We have a house in East Dennis, in Quivet Neck by Crowe’s Pasture. The beach at the bottom of Sea Street is where we spend a lot of time walking, and birding. In the past several years, we have observed 2 or so adult piping plovers during the summer, one juvenile last summer, but wasn’t sure if it grew up on the beach or flew in. This morning, I observed four very young piping plover chicks with one parent. Not being an expert, I think they might be around 2 weeks old – I have photos. It’s a busy beach with dogs on it, although they are not supposed to be, and I worry for their safety. Still, this is pretty exciting as I have never before observed piping plover chicks on our beach. Is this site being monitored by anyone on the Cape?

    1. Wellfleet Bay Post author

      Thanks for this excellent sighting, Linnet! I see you’ve been in touch with Mark Faherty. Please do lets us know if the Dennis Nat. Resources folks respond. This has definitely been a year for nests in unexpected places! Nice to know they have 4 chicks too!


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