The Mass Audubon program, which works with local, state, and federal wildlife partners, protected 226 pairs—30% of the Commonwealth’s population of Piping Plovers and roughly 12.5% of the Atlantic Coast population estimated at 1,800 pairs.
According to recently released U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service statistics for 2019, state abundance of the protected species—listed as Threatened on both federal and state wildlife protection registers—rose to 755 pairs, up from 688 in 2018. Reproductive success, defined by the number of birds reaching flight stage, increased by more than 11 percent over the previous year.
Plovers at CWP-protected sites produced a record 1.5 fledglings per pair compared to 1.1 per pair in 2018. Although hatching rates were similar in both years, survival of chicks was 30% greater in 2019.
The CWP monitors 177 sites from Plum Island to the South Coast, virtually the entire Massachusetts coastline.
Piping Plovers are small, roundish, sandy-colored shorebirds that make a repetitive piping call (hence their name). Because Atlantic Coast plovers lay eggs directly on sandy beaches, their populations face a variety of threats, from coastal storms and rising sea levels to predators such as coyotes and crows, and intrusion on their habitats by humans and their pets.
CWP Director Dr. Katharine C. Parsons noted that good weather during May 2019 contributed to greater success among “first clutch” nesting. If first attempts at nesting are unsuccessful, plovers will re-nest, which prolongs the weeks they are sharing beaches with the beach-going public. Studies show that early nestlings have a greater change of fledging.
“Piping Plovers were the most successful they’ve been in more than a decade due to the committed efforts of many shorebird champions throughout the state—including conservation organizations and beach goers who have kept away from fenced areas and have leashed their dogs or walked them in areas where nesting is not taking place,” Parsons said.
Carolyn Mostello, Coastal Waterbird Biologist for the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife, noted, “In Massachusetts we are very fortunate that the public has a strong conservation ethic and is supportive of measures that protect beach-nesting birds like the Piping Plover.
“That ethic, together with the dedication of our conservation partners and a little luck, makes a successful recipe for plover success,” Mostello added.
To learn more about Mass Audubon’s Coastal Waterbird Program and the remarkable 2019 results, visit massaudubon.org/cwp.