OLD ORCHARD BEACH – While the Pier and Palace Playland, the Seaside Pavilion, and other summer venues eagerly make arrangements to commemorate the Fourth of July weekend with flocks of revelers, another more delicate variety of beach-goers also attends to peak season preparations. A pair of six-inch tall endangered birds—Atlantic Coast Piping Plovers—have chosen to make their nest directly alongside the iconic Palace Playland roller coaster in downtown Old Orchard Beach. With only ten pairs recorded in the entire state in 1981, the Atlantic Coast Piping Plover is making a tremendous comeback in Maine, returning to nest on local beaches in record numbers.
This summer, wildlife conservationists have recorded at least 87 nesting pairs of plovers, far exceeding the state’s historical high of 68 nesting pairs last year. While these total numbers are striking given the precarious status of the species, an increase of this size is also unprecedented. The plover pairs count in Maine hovered within the mid-60 range from 2015 to 2018, and since last year we have witnessed a drastic 27 percent increase.
This bumper season for Piping Plovers means that the returning shorebirds have to find new places to nest. Some are selecting sites close to high human activity, such as those living beside the roller coaster at Palace Playland.
At least 26 beaches in 11 southern Maine towns have nesting plovers this summer, including record-highs at several popular spots. Ogunquit hosts twelve nesting pairs, followed by Popham Beach with ten, and Wells and Ferry/Western Beach in Scarborough with eight. Although conservation measures to protect essential habitat have undoubtedly facilitated plover recovery, the complexities of the natural world make it difficult to pinpoint the cause of the increase. Intriguingly, while the Atlantic Coast Piping Plover nests on coastal lands between the Carolinas and Canada, Maine appears to be alone in experiencing this year’s dramatic increase in nesting pairs.
Maine Audubon has been promoting Piping Plover recovery for over 35 years, working with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, municipalities, private landowners, and a dedicated team of more than 150 volunteers. Laura Minich Zitske, Director of the Coastal Birds Project at Maine Audubon, explains that while the risks to plover chicks abound with numerous predators constantly roaming the beach, even well-meaning humans pose a significant danger to these precious birds. According to Zitske, “Plover chicks freeze when they feel threatened. Oftentimes people mistake this behavior for injury and attempt to pick the chick up, putting it at greater risk. The best way to promote plover recovery is to give these birds the space and respect they need.”
By the Fourth of July, many Piping Plover chicks will have recently hatched, setting foot on Maine sand for the first time. Plover chicks cannot fly for 25-30 days, yet they are extremely mobile and can move miles away from the nest and any protective fencing. In order to ensure that our beaches remain a critical haven for defenseless chicks at the height of the summer season, certain precautions must be taken. Although the increase in our nesting plover population is encouraging, we still have fewer than 200 adults in all of Maine; it is our responsibility as members of a shared habitat to respect both the humans and wildlife that depends on our coastal environment.
|Town||Beach Name||Adult Pairs|
|Old Orchard Beach||Ocean Park||2|
|Scarborough State Park||2|
|Cape Elizabeth||Ram Island||1|
|Crescent State Park||1|
|Popham State Park||10|
|Georgetown||Reid State Park||3|
Plover-friendly beach practices:
- Keep dogs leashed and away from nesting areas (or off plover beaches all together) during the spring and summer months;
- Fly kites away from nesting sites to prevent plover from abandoning their nest due to mistaking a kite for a predator;
- Carry out trash to avoid attracting fox, gulls, and other predators to nesting areas;
- Fill in holes to protect chicks from falling in and getting trapped.
If you are concerned for the safety of Piping Plovers on your beach, call the Warden Service at (207) 287-8000 or Piping Plover Recovery Project Team at (207) 233-6811.
CoastalBirdWeekly Update 6-14-2019