Piping Plovers

Piping Plover Protection and Management:
A Lloyd Center Legacy

adult plover / click to enlarge

Piping Plovers (Charadrius melodus) are a beach-nesting shorebird whose Atlantic Coast sub-population nests in sandy locations on coastal beaches from North Carolina to Canada. Plovers are notorious for being adapted to life in a harsh environment with nest highly exposed and vulnerable, to both predation by naturally occurring wildlife, and frequent overwash by storms or high tides.

While originally protected from hunting under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, human encroachment thereafter ensured the species’ demise. Over time, development of the coastal landscape (homes, parking lots, roads, piers) including efforts at beach “stabilization” interrupted natural shoreline flows and reduced the capacity for beaches to replenish, causing habitat loss. Increased recreation on shrinking beaches in turn resulted in increased disturbance to birds, and ultimately more nests in problem areas. The birds are tolerant of people, but were putting themselves at risk for trampling, vehicle mortality, and nest abandonment. An expanding human footprint also caused an increase in predators attracted to human-use areas, and predator management became central to plover recovery over the long-term. In 1986 the birds were protected by the federal Endangered Species Act of 1973, with states following suit and offering additional, localized layers of protection.

full clutch / click to enlarge

Part of the listing process included a recovery plan to bring the birds back. Plover “monitors” installed symbolic fencing, protected some nests with predator exclosures, monitored breeding activity, educated the public and guarded refuges, gathered detailed nesting data including causes of nest loss, and submitted final data to agencies. This data has determined levels of progress being made each year toward the recovery goal, and helped guide future management.

In Massachusetts, pairs increased from approximately 180 to near 700 in recent years. Here in Bristol County, abundance started at only 17 pairs before peaking at over 50 in recent seasons. Success has come at a price, as management is now focused on ways to allow people and plovers to coexist.

Initially the Lloyd Center managed all beaches in the county. Over time, as abundance increased, work became a shared effort with other local organizations with similar interests, including the Massachusetts Audubon Society and the Rhode Island Nature Conservancy.

From 2004-2017 Lloyd Center efforts were focused on Horseneck Beach, Gooseberry Neck, Demarest Lloyd State Park, and West Island – all owned by the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). The Lloyd Center was instrumental in establishing a foundation at the busy Horseneck Beach after years of work, including recent seasons where a dune restoration project created a myriad of challenges as plover abundance increased, and when a large Least Tern colony presented challenges of its own.

road plovers / click to enlarge

Beginning in 2018, DCR, as has occurred at other sites owned by the agency with operational complexities, took over management of these areas. That year Lloyd Center work continued with small contracts with the Town of Fairhaven for the town beach of West Island in Fairhaven, and privately owned Bakers Beach in Westport, which the Lloyd Center historically managed. Both sites were highly successful, including unprecedented productivity at West Island, and rescues of hatchlings at Bakers Beach.

Stay tuned for links to more detailed background about this effort, and other highlights and data regarding piping plovers at each site where the Lloyd Center has helped in recovery of this storied species over the years.