A day in the life of a plover chick can be an amazing and terrifying thing for our biologists to behold. Resembling a fluffy cotton-ball, a Piping Plover chick is possibly one of the cutest babies in the animal kingdom. However, their twenty-five day journey from marshmallow to a fledged adult is a perilous one. Once hatched, it takes only an hour before the plover chicks can run around and feed themselves. It is not uncommon to see the day-old birds weaving around towels, umbrellas, and sleeping sun-bathers as they forage along the wrack-line. Currently, there are 47 chicks running around Maine’s beaches; foraging, brooding, and, in some cases, fledging. Our hope is that a majority of these birds will survive their teenage adventures and, at the end of the summer, join their parents as they migrate south for the winter.
Once chicks have hatched, Piping Plover management becomes a much more nerve-wracking process. We experienced this yet again last Monday, June 18th when we received a call about chicks on the border of Old Orchard Beach and Ocean Park Beach. The chicks in question had hatched only 4 days earlier in front on the KebeK 3 Motel, just south of the ‘Palace Playland,’ and had already traveled, with their parents, about a mile down the beach. Despite the huge number of people at Old Orchard, these parents seemed to be on a mission and their chicks were determined to follow. We did not have time, however, to marvel at the distance these tiny birds had traveled because, as soon as they had made it over the boundary between the two beaches, the parents were immediately drawn in to a fight with another pair of plovers that had already established territory. The migrant parents alternated between defending themselves and guiding their chicks as they were slowly pushed down the beach. We looked on in amazement as dogs, gulls, and even our team seemed to become nonexistent to the plovers. All we could do was try to keep potential predators away and advise beachgoers to keep their distance. In the end, the little family was able to move far enough along the sand and their rivals calmed down. Though the situation was stressful, the plovers’ determination to move their chicks to a new home exemplifies the resilience of the species. Plover parents will always lead their offspring to wherever they feel is safest, despite the obstacles that may lie in their path.
Though many of the hardships faced by the plovers can be avoided by careful management, some obstacles are beyond our control. This past week, six chicks on Goose Rocks were lost, likely due to the high tides. Losing nests to tides, unfortunately, is not uncommon and has occurred this year on Popham and Scarborough beaches. However, on the bright side, the remaining Goose Rocks chicks have continued to grow bigger and some have even begun to fledge! Our team watched with delight as two adolescent birds made their first clumsy attempts to fly on Thursday, June 19th. Hopefully, all eleven chicks found their wings by the 4th of July.
Our team would like to remind all beachgoers that, as well as having lots of fun, please remember that we share the beach with many other creatures, including Piping Plovers. Trash can attract predators, so be sure to put all of your waste into the proper containers and please continue to respect marked off nesting areas. Also, if you have remaining fireworks you would like to enjoy, please remember these are often very stressful for nesting birds and if you are going to end your day with a bang, please avoid the beaches and find another open space to set them off.