Piping Plovers

Piping Plovers in Bristol County

Wildlife Protection and Management:

The Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus)

From the time the piping plover was federally listed in 1986, to the present, the Lloyd Center has ensured the famous “peep-lo” call rings on, cutting through the cool April winds. The Center has managed the Bristol County Population for nearly two decades.

The Piping Plover, often called a “Ghost in the Sand” for its cryptic coloration, is a beach-nesting shorebird that lays eggs in open sandy areas not far from the intertidal food source. Despite being well hidden, the eggs are still subject to storm over wash, disturbance from public recreation if nests aren’t quickly quarantined, and predation by other beach wildlife. These factors and habitat loss through time resulted in endangerment of the species, and the research and management efforts that persist today.

Through a long term partnership with the Division of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), the Mass. Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, and in recent years the Mass. Audubon Society, The Lloyd Center has a managed a sustained population of 30 or more pairs.

Historically the Lloyd Center has managed all beaches of Bristol County encompassing the towns of Westport, Dartmouth and Fairhaven. A microcosm of beach habitats exists including classic barrier beaches and large dunes on Horseneck, the barrier islands of Gooseberry and West Island, and sand spits of Demarest Lloyd, Barneys Joy, and Little Beach. Horseneck and Allens Pond (Little Beach and Barneys Joy) contain on average 25 pairs between them, the other pairs distributed amongst other smaller sites. Notorious are pairs laying eggs in cracks in pavement at Horseneck, the young hatchlings traversing parking lots and tall dunes to reach the water’s edge. This trend and two resident pairs on small, privately owned Bakers Beach adjacent to Horseneck suggest that carrying capacity is being realized. Plovers renest until young emerge, and the chicks are precocial (walk and feed hours after hatching), both aspects of plover biology adaptations to the harsh beach environment.

From the start of the effort through 2000, work was conducted by research assistant John Hill and seasonal interns. From 2000 until the present, research associate Jamie Bogart and various interns and volunteers have continued the program. Each season plover staff install symbolic fencing to protect nesting areas from public disturbance, and install predator exclosures around nests to prevent avian and mammalian predators from eating eggs. Monitoring to detect events throughout the season is critical, with staff observing every adult, egg, and chick from April to August.

Despite the great successes, the plover story is one of struggle range-wide, whereby predation, overwash, off-road vehicle use, and habitat change routinely make life difficult. Major hurdles have included coyote predation at Horseneck, the overwash of a sand spit at Demarest Lloyd, and the 2003 oil spill which through partial oiling of adults and disturbance from cleanup crews added stress to plovers already pursued by coyotes. In 2006 multiple chicks fledged at Horseneck after a few poor years.

“Once the volume of beachgoers usurps unused breeding territory, sand-filled cracks in the parking lot and other paved areas become potential nest sites with usually fatal results for the chicks.”

Other endangered beach wildlife surveyed and managed along with plovers include least terns, American oystercatchers, the northeastern beach tiger beetle, and the diamondback terrapin.