Saturday, March 23, 2013

Piping Plovers Returning to NJ

Piping Plovers   Image: wikimedia.org
Piping Plovers winter primarily on the Atlantic Coast from North Carolina to Florida, although some migrate to the Bahamas and West Indies. Piping plovers return to their breeding grounds, including New Jersey beaches, starting in late March or early April.

The piping plover became a Federally protected species under the Endangered Species Act and in 1984, New Jersey listed the species as "endangered" and it remains one of the state's most endangered species.

The piping plover is a small, stocky, sandy-colored bird resembling a sandpiper. When still, the piping plover blends into the pale background of open, sandy habitat on outer beaches where it feeds and nests.

Its name comes from its call notes, plaintive bell-like whistles which are often heard before the birds are seen.



Our Jersey beaches are also home to the Federally endangered roseate tern, the threatened northeastern beach tiger beetle, the threatened seabeach amaranth, the least tern, the common tern, the black skimmer, and the Wilson's plover.

Starting soon and running into early summer, you will see beach areas along our coast marked with signs warning about beach nesting birds.

Plovers go through nesting and courtship rituals. When a pair mates, they make a nest as a depression in the sand. They are usually located close to the dunes.

Sometimes the nest is lined with small stones or fragments of shell.

There are usually our eggs hatch which will hatch in a bit less than four weeks.

Piping plovers were once common along the Atlantic Coast in the 1800s. Unfortunately, there were hunted for their plumage which was used for fashionable ladies hats.

The population made a comeback after the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 and peaked during the 1940s.

Since then, the population has declined again due to to increased development in beach areas, predators (including feral cats) and increaseed recreational traffic on beaches which includes humans and pets.

You can help protect beach-nesting birds by resspecting fenced in or posted areas. Don't approach piping plovers or their nests and if you're walking dogs on a beach that allows them, keep them  leashed.  Even leaving trash or food scraps on beaches can attract predators which may prey upon piping plover eggs or chicks.

This summer nesting may be affected by the destruction of the dunes because of Hurricane Sandy and subsequent storms

The downy young plovers will follow their parents and learn to forage for marine worms, crustaceans, and insects. As with the eggs, the young are well camouflaged on the beach - so much so that the eggs and young are sometimes stepped on by people walking near the dunes. Unfortunately, when predators or people come near, the young will freeze motionless on the sand. The parents will try to distract intruders away from the young and to themselves by feigning a broken wing.


If the young can survive that first month, they will be able to fledge and can fly to escape. are flying in about 30 days.

Because of dune damage, or predator and human disturbance, eggs may not hatch. Plovers will often re-nest in the same area. But these later hatchlings will not be flying until August and will need to start their southward migration by mid-September to wintering areas.
    Sources:
    http://www.nps.gov/featurecontent/caco/plover_slideshow.html
    http://www.nps.gov/caco/naturescience/the-piping-plover.htm
    Piping Plover 'Seashore Science' Document
    The Threatened Piping Plover - a photo essay
    Piping Plover Annual Reports

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