It’s Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus) nesting season!! You have probably started to notice the “symbolic fencing” at some of your local parks and beaches. Plovers tend to nest from mid March to around Labor day. The symbolic fencing protects the nesting plovers from people and vehicles. Once a nest has been established, enclosures are placed around the nest to protect from potential predators. The enclosures have holes small enough to let the plovers through, but not anything else. Scientist then monitor the plovers (from a safe distance) to check if the population is increasing or decreasing. These measures are taken because the piping plover is protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and was listed in 1985.
On occasion sand pipers will be mistaken for the piping plover. The Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla) is a type of plover, but they are typically more abundant. As fledglings the birds are harder to distinguish, but once they have their adult plumage they are more distinct. The feature that stands out the most in the orange peek on an adult plover. Plovers are masters of blending in with the sand. Sometimes you will hear them before you see them! As adults they are so small (~ 6 inches on average) that it helps to have binoculars handy.
Juveniles and Adults
It is estimated that there are a little over 8,000 plovers which makes the population near threatened. It is believed that the population decline is due to plovers nesting on areas that are typically heavily visited by humans and dogs.
Plovers tend to nest on the beach closer to the grass and dunes. Once the mating plovers find an ideal spot, the female will lay 3-4 eggs. It typically take 25 – 30 days for the eggs to hatch. Plover chicks are relatively independent and resourceful. They can feed themselves without the help of a parents within a few hours of being born.
**I just want to note that I am definitely not a bird expert. I spent some time plover monitoring which is why I care about this species. How can you not care for something this cute? You can do your part in protecting this species by following your local state and federal regulations. This means: no driving on the beach, obeying the symbolic fencing, and no dogs during mating season.
USFWS: Piping Plover Life History
Endangered Species Act of 1973 (pdf)