Plovers: Birds in Peril
by Jackie Waddell
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year, dedicated volunteers devote hours of their summer to counting
and protecting Prince Edward Island's only endangered species
- the Piping Plover. This small, pale shorebird lives, nearly
invisible, on sandy beaches between the high tide mark and the
dunes. Surely one of the most inhospitable habitats in the region,
the beach has been the plovers' home for thousands of years. Perfectly
adapted, plovers feed on insects and small crustaceans attracted
to the debris on the shore - old seaweeds, dead crabs and fish,
and any other organic materials the sea might deposit on the shore.
The dune grass provides shelter for small chicks but is rarely
used for nesting.
April the plovers return to PEI from a warm winter on the Gulf
of Mexico, Florida, South Carolina or Cuba. Pairs establish a
territory in May and the males scrape out small depressions in
the sand as a part of an elaborate courtship. The female chooses
one scrape (commonly decorated with small shell fragments) and
lays the first of four eggs. Every other day a new egg is laid
and incubation starts only when the last of them is in the nest.
That way, all the chicks develop together and will hatch within
hours of one another. The newly hatched chicks dry off and literally
take off running. They feed for themselves with both parents watching
to Piping Plovers comes in many forms. Enemies of adults are storms
during migration, pollution of wintering habitat, birds of prey
and more direct human interference. Dogs kill adults when they
are protecting nests or chicks. Humans disturb nesting areas,
putting adults at risk when small energy reserves are depleted
to re-nest or protect young.
of eggs and chicks are many - crows and foxes top the list in
PEI. Humans are considered a threat by plovers who will leave
a nest to lure the predator away. Eggs can overheat or cool quickly,
causing death of the embryos. When disturbed off the nest frequently,
loss of a nest is more likely. This also increases the chances
of predation of the nest as crows frequently find eggs through
their systematic search of the beach.
love to recreate on the same beaches plovers need to survive.
This is a less obvious form of habitat loss but loss nonetheless.
Plovers and humans can share the beach. Island Nature Trust works
on PEI to protect plovers by placing signs around nesting areas,
education and on-site volunteer monitors. Plovers have much higher
productivity rates when protected from disturbance and egg predation.
chicks will crouch and "freeze" when threatened. While
this protects them from predation, it also stops all feeding.
Crouching chicks have less feeding time and on a busy, hot weekend,
two days of heavy disturbance can cause death by starvation. This
is especially heartbreaking when there is plenty of food for these
beautiful young animals. Beach users are encouraged to stay out
of signed areas, keep dogs (very threatening to Plovers) on a
leash, and to remove all garbage from the beach as this attracts
the plover's predators.
2001 an International Census counted only 110 Piping Plovers in
PEI. While this number is up from 2000, it is only a return to
1991 figures. There are hundreds of kilometres of beautiful beach
on PEI. We can share the shore with the small population of plovers,
as there is plenty of room for both. If we don't respect the needs
of this shorebird, we will have lost another species from an already
shaky assemblage of Island wildlife.
can work to help Piping Plovers return to historical population
levels by volunteering for the Guardian Program and respecting
plover nesting areas. Contact the Nature Trust at 902-566-9150
or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on programs.
Waddell is the Project Coordinator at Island Nature Trust, where
she also supervises the Piping Plover Guardian Program. Jackie
has a B.Sc. in Biology, with an emphasis in Wildlife Management.
Since 1986 Jackie has worked at the Trust on a variety of programs
including natural area protection through private landowner stewardship,
restoration of natural areas and many educations efforts.
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