Recently, as our team was monitoring Seawall Beach in Phippsburg, we were once again rewarded by the sight of three freshly hatched plover chicks clustered together in a nest around the last egg that was just about to hatch. This was another of the many nests that have hatched during the past two weeks, and is always a welcome sight!
After a particularly adverse beginning of June that saw 22 out of 27 nests statewide washed out by storms and high tides, plovers were confronted with additional challenges as they attempted to re-nest. At Goose Rocks Beach, two adult plovers from two different nests were killed and eaten, most likely by a domestic cat. Not only did we lose these two adults from our small breeding population, but the remaining mates could not finish incubating alone, causing both nests to fail. Around that time on the same beach, another nest was predated by a weasel and it was unfortunately too late for the birds to attempt to re-nest. The high rate of predation by domestic cats and other predators on Goose Rocks Beach forced us to take down all the exclosures protecting these nests as our team suspected that the predators were keying in on the exclosures as a source of food. Thus, when a skunk family happened to walk by an unprotected nest that was due to hatch in a the next few days, the eggs made an easy meal and sadly, the nesting plover pair lost their second chance at raising chicks.
It is only now in mid-July that things on the plover beaches seem to be settling back to “normal” and the nests that were spared by the tides and predators have hatched chicks. We are currently in a plover “baby boom”! On some beaches, like Popham, if you pay attention you can see as many as 17 tiny chicks running up and down the beach feeding themselves. Maine beaches are currently host to 52 chicks, which is a lot for a state with only about 40 pairs and is unusually high for mid-July, by which time typically more chicks have already fledged.
Despite this good news, we cannot yet celebrate victory for this season. Although our plover population has shown great resilience so far by recovering from recent setbacks, the chicks are most vulnerable in their first weeks of life. We can help these chicks become fledglings by doing a few small things: please give the birds some space; fill up holes you dig on the beach (chicks and fall in and become trapped and die); fly kites away from plover areas (they can be mistaken for predators); and keep cats and dogs inside or leash dogs while on the beach. All it takes is a little awareness and respect to help these rare birds survive and thrive. We hope that everyone’s efforts will be rewarded by the knowledge that by the time our endangered Piping Plovers start migrating south in August, their numbers will have increased significantly. If we are lucky, some of this year’s fledglings will return in future summers to breed on Maine’s beaches.
Written by Erik Ndayishimiye