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Nature Notes: Piping plover populations are making a comeback

Last summer, piping plovers, a threatened popular shorebird, had a better than average nesting season in Connecticut, according to officials and nearly 100 volunteers who carefully monitor the birds.

When the numbers were tallied, 57 pairs produced 98 chicks capable of flight. Statistically, that’s 1.7 chicks per pair.

“This is good news for piping plovers in Connecticut,” the Connecticut Audubon Society announced, adding, “Our state productivity is higher than the regional goal of 1.5 fledglings per pair along the Atlantic Flyway.”

Why does this matter?

If federal- and state-protected plovers sustain a threshold or goal of fledging 1.5 chicks per nest — and they’ve surpassed that mark now for the 14th time since 1996 — scientists believe these numbers will result in increasing the piping plover population.

Also, it needs to be said, piping plovers face enormous challenges in trying to raise their young.

“They lay their eggs directly on the ground and rely on camouflage to hide their eggs from predators,” explained Patrick Comins, executive director of the Connecticut Audubon Society. “This also makes them vulnerable to trampling, as the nests are very hard to see.”

Comins was referring to both foot and vehicular beach traffic that may unwittingly crush the nests.

Other threats include pets, especially dogs, who often harass the nesting plovers; feral and domestic cats, raccoons, skunks and fox, who will eat the eggs and chicks, if they can find them; and, finally, to add insult to injury, storm tides may wash over a nest, forcing the plovers to abandon their efforts.

Thankfully, the Audubon Alliance for Coastal Waterbirds, which consists of Audubon Connecticut (a state office of the National Audubon Society), the Connecticut Audubon Society, the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History and the State of Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, have a well-oiled operation to help protect these pretty little sand-colored shorebirds.

That is, each year, from roughly mid-March to end of June, when piping plovers mate and nest, staff and volunteers place string fences and wire enclosures around many of the plover nests. They also educate beachgoers about the biology and life history of piping plovers.

“Volunteers help us get out that message that we can have this bird nesting on our coast, and its possible for all of us to share the shore,” said Corrie Folsom-O’Keefe, director of bird conservation for Audubon Connecticut.

If you would like to be a citizen scientist and have some fun this spring and summer, why not volunteer? The alliance will begin training volunteers in March. They could use your help.

For more information, visit ctwaterbirds.blogspot.com.

Bill Hobbs lives in Stonington. He can be reached at whobbs246@gmail.com.

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