Our piping plovers began to arrive several weeks ago and now we have 7 of these curious and endangered little beach birds. I thought that they were all guys, since other male birds arrive before their females to stake out a good nest area, but a few turned out to be females. They are pairing off already.
What is weird about these birds is that they usually nest right on the beach. Now we live in a tourist town with a beautiful sandy beach and in the summer our population of around a thousand swells to many times that number.
We also have thousands of summer tourists and day trippers from neighboring Maine towns and surrounding states, who claim their place on the beach with their usual beach paraphernalia – blankets, beach chairs, coolers, beach umbrellas – and by the time July and August roll around, you would have a hard time finding a square foot or two of empty beach sand.
You begin to wonder, then, how the piping plovers could ever make a go of it. Their nest is just a hole in the sand, where they lay eggs and have their chicks that can be a quick snack for Black Back Gulls, crows and other predators or be stepped on by an unsuspecting beach goer.
From the minute they’re hatched, the chicks are on their feet and have to feed themselves. Their parents usually chase away other birds, calling to their chicks that usually scurry beneath a parent’s spread feathers. But if there are dogs on the beach, a plover’s natural predator, they may be doomed. Dogs are banned on our beach after April 1st till after Labor Day.
If you’re on our beach, you may see areas strung off as well as small cages. These strung off areas are plover areas and the cages are called exclosures since they provide a safe place for plovers’ nests. Both are erected by Maine Audubon.
Piping plovers are tracked by volunteer monitors and protected by police. Fines exist for harming these state and federally protected birds.
Next time you’re on an ocean beach, look for one of these cute birds, listen for their piping call and help protect them. They are a natural wonder.