2016-06-02 / Nature

Watchful Eyes on Piping Plovers

By Jack Kelly

Female adult broods a chick under her wing on Sachuest Beach. 
(Photo by Jack Kelly) Female adult broods a chick under her wing on Sachuest Beach. (Photo by Jack Kelly) The pair of endangered Piping Plovers nesting on the eastern end of Sachuest Beach have overseen the hatching of their eggs. Three chicks were sighted last week accompanying their parents to the water’s edge to feed. While piping plovers lay four eggs in a clutch, it appears that only three hatched for this pair. The tiny young birds are in the process of bonding with their parents through brooding (when the chicks huddle under the adult’s wings for protection from airborne predators and the sunlight) and feeding rituals.

The down covered chicks are about the size of a cotton ball with tiny toothpick-length legs, and until they fledge (learn to fly) they are under the threat of predators such as crows, gulls, and skunks. Unfortunately, the biggest threat they face is from human beings along the beach.

The young shorebirds hatch pre-cocial, meaning they have the ability to move about and seek nourishment along the shoreline. The parents teach their young to move about cautiously; stop, look, listen and then move in spurts of speed. But humans running or walking on the beach may not see these tiny creatures and inadvertently step on them. In other cases, humans may be in the way of the plovers’ path to the shore and the birds will not feed, causing the young to perish. Trash and food scraps left behind on the beach may lure predators to the area, endangering the chicks.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service volunteer piping plover monitors assist the general public with understanding the plight of the plovers and are keeping a watchful eye on the avian family. It’s helpful to know that this is a temporary situation and the chicks will fledge in about three weeks, migrating soon thereafter.

This nesting season has brought three pairs of piping plovers to our region. Another pair is still incubating eggs on Sachuest Beach near the concession stand and pavilion. This nest was discovered recently by town workers preparing for the Memorial Day opening. Within hours, town workers and USFWS staff safely enclosed the nesting area and erected fences to keep the expectant adults safe. The third nest is located near Third Beach and the Sachuest Point NWR wetlands.

This is the highest number of nests in our area in many years and points to the success of conservation programs designed to protect this endangered species.

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