Piping plovers are small, stocky shore birds that inhabit Massachusetts coast. They build nesting sites on the coast in late March—April and breed over the summer.
MA has the largest breeding population of piping plovers along the Atlantic coast, with nearly 1,000 breeding pairs. They winter mostly on the Atlantic Coast from North Carolina to Florida, and some migrate to the Bahamas and Caribbean.
Piping plovers build nests in the narrow section of land between the high tide line and the foot of coastal dunes, and are known to come back to the same nesting site each year. Piping plovers will sometimes build nests on plant-covered or in eroded areas behind dunes. Females typically lay 4 eggs in a clutch. Both parents take part in incubating the eggs that hatch in 26–28 days. Their diet includes crustaceans, insects, marine worms.
Threats to Piping Plovers
Piping plovers are listed as threatened both on the Massachusetts and Federal Endangered Species Lists. The current population decline is attributed to increased development and recreational use of beaches since the end of World War II. Many of the coastal beaches used by piping plovers for nesting have been lost to commercial, residential, and recreational developments. Nesting sites near beaches can accidentally get stepped on or crushed by people and vehicles. People being nearby can also cause the birds to desert the nest, exposing eggs or chicks to the hot sun and predators. Pets may harass or kill the birds. People and development near nesting sites also leave food that attracts increased numbers of predators such as racoons, skunks, and foxes. Climate change has also threatened to population, as rise tides and storms may flood the nests.
What is MA doing to help?
Massachusetts is a leader in piping plover conservation, thanks to the actions of beach managers and landowners. In 2016, Massachusetts’ Piping Plover Habitat Conservation Plan was approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This plan advances Piping Plover conservation through a variety of conservation actions that plan participants will be required to undertake, maintains and improves public access, recreational opportunities, and economic activity associated with the state’s beaches, and streamlines the state and federal permitting process.
In addition, the National Park Service that runs the Cape Cod National Seashore MA close beaches during the summer to protect nesting plovers from being disturbed while they are breeding. Some beaches are closed to people, some just to pets.
How can residents help?
- Respect all areas fenced or posted for protection of wildlife.
- Do not approach or linger near piping plovers or their nests.
- If pets are permitted on beaches used by plovers, keep your pets leashed. Keep cats indoors.
- Don’t leave or bury trash or food scraps on beaches. Garbage attracts predators which may prey upon piping plover eggs or chicks.