Saturday, April 2, 2011

Preserving the Piping Plover

In March, near the shore in Rhode Island, you can see the Department of Environmental Management at work in its efforts to build the local piping plover population.

Piping Plover March 27, 2011

The piping plover is a small, stocky, sandy-colored bird resembling a sandpiper. The adult has yellow-orange legs, a black band across the forehead from eye to eye, and a black ring around the base of its neck. It runs in short starts and stops, skittering along the ocean's edge. You can see from the picture that when still, the piping plover easily blends into the sandy beach where it feeds and nests.

East Beach in Watch Hill, RI is one of the primary nesting locations in Rhode Island monitored for nesting piping plovers.

Welcome Sign

This is one of my favorite stretches of beach along Rhode island's shoreline.  It is pristine and unencumbered by commercialism.  It is a perfect place to absorb the beauty of the coastline and observe the natural habitat of species like the piping plover.

Piping Plover Facts Sign
A sign on the beach informs visitors of the piping plover habitat and asks for respect of the nesting areas.  The piping plover migrates south for the winter months but returns to southern New England in mid to late March for nesting season.  This past weekend I saw the dunes being cordoned off by the Department of Environmental Management in anticipation of the nesting season.

Cordoning Off the Nesting Dunes, March 27, 2011

I also saw the first piping plovers of the season.

My 1st Piping Plover Sighting of the Season

According to the Rhode Island National Wildlife Complex, "the piping plover became a protected species under the Endangered Species Act on January 10, 1986. Along the Atlantic Coast it is designated as threatened, which means that the population would continue to decline if not protected. The Endangered Species Act provides penalties for taking, harassing or harming the piping plover and affords some protection to its habitat."

When they say endangered, they really mean it.  The chart below shows the growth of the monitored Rhode Island population from 1986 through 2010.

Growing the Piping Plover Population

The current population decline is attributed to increased development and recreational use of beaches since the end of World War II. The most recent surveys place the Atlantic population at less than 1800 pairs.

With these population numbers, I feel honored to have seen these little guys skittering along the beach.

Piping Plovers, March 29, 2011

These are delightful little birds.  It's wonderful to see their population increasing.  The piping plovers on East Beach will be forming pairs and setting nests over the next several weeks.  The nests will containing four eggs and will be so carefully camouflaged that they will be undetected until stepped upon.  Hence, the need to cordon off the nesting dunes.  When undisturbed the eggs will hatch in 25 days and the young will fledge in approximately 30 days.

How can you help?
  • Respect the boundaries set along the dunes.  It is easy to crush a nest by walking in the nesting area.  Just stay away.
  • Keep dogs on a leash.  Running dogs can disturb nests as well.
  • Don"t leave any food or litter on the beach that may attract predators. 
I am delighted to respect and support these nesting efforts and hope you will too.  A healthy shoreline ecosystem benefits us all.

A June 7, 2011, Update
Well, friends, it looks like this has been a successful reproduction season for the piping plovers along this stretch of the Rhode Island shoreline.  Why do I say that?  This morning while taking an early morning walk along the beach I was able to observe a frenzy of birds feeding in the piping plover nesting area.  In the video below you'll hear the sound of the birds calling as they fly from the nesting area to the water to catch small fish, and then swoop back to the nests.  It was breakfast time for the piping plovers.

Update June 25, 2011
Today I saw several piping plover nests along the beach.  Department of Environmental Management officers were on the beach fencing off the nests.  One said that after the piping plover lays a clutch of four eggs, the eggs will hatch 25 days later and the baby piping plovers will be ready to leave the nests after another 25 days.  Below is a picture of a nest with eggs.  Can you find the eggs?  Hint: they are in the upper right quadrant of the photo.

Some other posts highlighting life by the shore:
Fog at the Beach
Cabin Fever Antidote-A Walk On the Beach
Baby It's Cold Outside
Sea Glass

Living life by the shore...

Source:  the Rhode Island National Wildlife Complex


  1. Thank you for coming to my blog during #commenthour

    New lesson2 up

    Love the beach and the birds running near the waters edge


  2. great post. I love the beach, I just hate it when I see people tossing trash on the beach!

    coming over (late!) from the SITS comment hour.

  3. Dear Donna,

    I just stumbled upon your blog while googling piping plovers. I was telling my cousin how it is one of my favorite places on earth (the bird sanctuary) and read your whole post on the little birds. Thank you! Great post! Wonderful blog! I can't wait to spend some time in Westerly this summer. Happy Summer!



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