Piping plover pair produces a clutch of four offspring in P.E.I. National Park in an area that remains closed to people for the birds’ protection
© GUARDIAN PHOTO BY MARY MACKAY
Andre Laurin, acting resource conservation technician with P.E.I. National Park, shows part of a piping plover egg that, due to colouring, is extremely difficult to see under typical shoreline circumstances. This area along the Robinson’s Island Causeway has been closed for the season to accommodate piping plovers that now have a clutch of four offspring.
Congratulations are in order for Prince Edward Island National Park.
The stork recently delivered four peppy peepers to a mating pair of piping plovers and the park staff is excited about the new arrivals.
But don’t break out the celebratory cigars and head over for a gander at the newborns because their habitat on a one-kilometre stretch on the Robinson’s Island Causeway is strictly off limits until these beach babies head south in the fall.
And whether you say plover so that it rhymes with clover or hover, this clever little pip-squeak of a bird causes quite a stir in birding circles wherever it calls home.
“It’s like toe-may-toe, toe-mah-toe,” acting resource conservation technician with P.E.I. National Park Andre Laurin says of the regional differences in pronunciation for this endangered species.
This is the second year this small section of beach has been closed due to its popularity as a nesting site for some piping plovers.
These closed areas can change from year to year depending on where the adult plovers choose to make their nests.
“We only keep an area closed up until either we verify that there is no nesting or brooding activity anymore or until the fledged chicks have left,” Laurin says.
In addition to posting signs to indicate an area is closed, interpretive panels are erected to explain why the action is being taken and to educate people about piping plovers in general.
“The plovers arrive here usually in early April and they come up from the Gulf of Mexico, so anywhere from the Florida panhandle, Florida peninsula area into the Gulf of Mexico and even into some of the Caribbean Islands. That’s where they overwinter,” Laurin says.
In early April the Atlantic population — there are also populations in the Great Lakes and the prairies — returns to their breeding ground in the North Atlantic East Coast.
This includes P.E.I., New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, small pockets of population in Newfoundland and the Îles de la Madeleine and some of New England coastal regions.
This spring three breeding pairs made their way to the national park; each made a second nesting attempt after the first was lost early on in the breeding season.
Piping plovers outside the park are monitored by Island Nature Trust.
“In the national park we’ve only had one nest that has gone through to (the hatching stage),” Laurin says.
“We’ve had a total of six (nests) over the season, but unfortunately we lost five of them. One of them we’re not quite exactly sure, we have suspicions that it was lost to flooding during some of the high tides. And then the other four were (lost to predation), so either fox or crows.”
While there is virtually no way to prevent other wildlife from entering a piping plover’s nesting site, making sure that humans and their companion animals — dogs, cats and horses — do not add to the upset is important to a positive outcome to their breeding season.
“Basically what happens is anytime people walk through a closed area it can modify their feeding behaviour but also their nesting behaviour. If someone walks too close to the nest they might flush the bird and that will provide a period of time when the eggs aren’t being incubated . . . ,” Laurin says.
“And if they are out feeding along the shoreline where they usually feed that will also have an impact on them, preventing them from getting to the shoreline to feed. So any activity of that type could modify those behaviours.”
As an endangered species, piping plovers are listed in the federal species-at-risk act, which is intended to protect species that are vulnerable and endangered.
“Here on the Island the population has been in decline and so we’re trying to do the best we can in terms of providing suitable habitat for them to breed, and doing so includes closed areas, daily monitoring of statistics and . . . the domestic animal prohibition (from April 1 to Oct. 15), so that includes dogs, cat and horses,” Laurin says.
Plovers, in a way, are the canaries in a coalmine for the coastal beach habitat in which they live.
“They’ve been identified as kind of a key indicator species for this ecosystem type.
“And because they have been in decline for the last while they have been monitored quite heavily. This is actually the 35th year that we’ve been collecting information here in the national park and we’ve been actively monitoring them since 1982. And so it’s a longstanding monitoring project,” Laurin says.
Despite all the preventative measures, piping plover numbers are still on the decline.
Still it’s important to continue these efforts, he says.
“You can compare it to, for example, that it’s harder to protect a large area when there are so many different aspects of that area to protect,” Laurin says.
“But if you can focus on one particular aspect of that environment, (a species) for example, then by protecting that individual species and its habitat you’re also helping to protect other organisms.”.
Islanders and beach users play an important role in the protection and recovery of P.E.I.’s Piping Plover population. They can assist by:
Respecting closed areas by keeping outside closed area boundaries;
Adhering to the domestic animal prohibition by refraining from bringing dogs, cats or horses onto the beaches of P.E.I. National Park between April 1 and Oct. 15 each year.
Staying off sand dunes.
Reporting suspected nests to park staff.
Individuals who are interested in joining the Piping Plover recovery effort on P.E.I. are encouraged to contact Parks Canada at 672-6350 or Island Nature Trust at 566-9150.