The Piping Plover Project

One of the exciting things I get to do as an intern on Fire Island is help monitor the piping plovers. These are a small endangered shorebird species; with sandy-colored backs and white underbellies. From beak to tail, they are around 7 inches long. Breeding plumage includes bright orange legs and a dark stripe across the face. These birds are native to North America; they migrate around March or April to breed along the upper east coast, the Great Lakes, and the Great Plains of both the United States and Canada. During the winter, they turn to the south August through October. 

Piping plovers live in the Gulf of Mexico, the Bahamas, and the Caribbean. They like to eat small crustaceans, marine worms, and their larvae. They almost always lay 4 eggs at a time; I have never seen a complete nest that did not have 4 eggs. They are capable of renesting if the eggs are lost or otherwise abandoned by the parents. Most that experience this loss will renest two or three times. The greatest number of renesting attempts from a single breeding pair in a single season ever recorded is 4, although this is exceedingly rare.

The piping plovers come to Fire Island in three waves; the first wave is composed of older, more seasoned breeding pairs, followed by two waves of younger pairs. Some years ago, there were only 5 nests across the entire island. Last summer however, there were 73 nests by the end of the third wave. At this point in the summer, there are 58 nests and the third wave is just beginning. I’m crossing my fingers for 100 nests!

The plovers are monitored via an app called Neststory. Researchers observe nests in person and record all kinds of information, including whether parents were observed, what their behaviors were, how many eggs were seen, how many chicks were seen, where they were seen, whether predators were observed, what numbers are present on banded individuals, etc. This information is valuable and can be used to predict when eggs will hatch, when the chicks will fledge, determine if a nest is at risk for abandonment, or decide where to draw symbolic fencing to close beaches to protect chicks.

No matter where you are in the breeding season, the babies are so cute! I had the pleasure of seeing a tiny hatchling that could barely climb back into its nest, I’ve seen small peepers that ran up and down the shore after their parents, and I’ve also seen bigger chicks that almost had their adult plumage. Most exciting of all, a nest successfully fledged a few days ago. The future of the piping plover is hopeful here on Fire Island.

Far left; tiny three-toed plover tracks. Middle left; an empty nest scrape following the successful raising of 4 chicks. Middle right; an abandoned nest in the sand dunes. Far right; an active and cared-for nest, hidden well among beach grass.

1 Comment
  • Ankara Avukat
    Posted at 08:27h, 05 July Reply

    Your blog resonates with me on so many levels. Thank you for your thoughtful and well-crafted posts. They often feel like they were written just for me.

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