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Maritimes Piping Plover Conservation Program

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The Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus melodus) is a small, migratory shorebird. Its cryptically-coloured feathers enable it to nest and evade predators on coastal beaches. It winters along the coast of the southeastern U.S. and the Caribbean Islands, and is found on sand and pebble beaches from Newfoundland to South Carolina in spring and summer. From May to August, it nests and raises young on the open sand between grassy dunes and the high-tide mark. The Piping Plover breeds on about 25 beaches in Nova Scotia, and fewer than five in southeastern New Brunswick.

Female plovers lay four eggs directly on the sand without any cover. Males and females work together to incubate and protect the eggs for four weeks. Nesting plovers are vulnerable to disturbance from people and pets. You can help by walking on the wet sand and staying away from signs marking plover nesting areas.

Newly-hatched chicks weigh as much as two pennies. Unlike some baby birds, plover chicks feed themselves. Plover parents keep their young chicks warm underneath their bellies, and protect them from predators, people, and pets until they are fledged or able to fly. Adult females often begin their migration south before males. Fledgling plovers must gain strength and experience flying before beginning their migration south, and may be seen with other shorebirds feeding on the beach in August and September.

Why are Atlantic Piping Plovers endangered?

Habitat loss and degradation

Breeding beaches may be damaged or lost due to natural or human causes. Powerful storms, high tides, and flooding can alter beach habitat and limit plovers' ability to nest. Inappropriate coastal development and human activities on beaches (recreation, vehicle traffic) can damage or destroy habitat, reducing the number of breeding sites available.

Predator pressures

Plover adults, chicks, and eggs are at risk of predation by crows, falcons, raccoons, foxes, mink, coyotes, and roaming dogs and cats, all of which may be attracted by leftover food and other waste. Encouraging beachgoers and coastal landowners to take trash out with them can help reduce predator threats.

Human disturbance

Piping Plover adults, eggs, and chicks are hard to see. People may disturb them without knowing it. Too much human activity near nesting areas can lead to nest detection by predators, abandonment of eggs by incubating adults, chick mortality, and the abandonment of a beach as a traditional breeding site. Staying clear of signed areas, keeping motorized vehicles away and pets leashed, and walking on the wet sand can keep disturbance to a minimum.

Weather

High tides and winds can flood nests or threaten the survival of flightless chicks. As a result of climate change, extreme weather events are predicted to increase in frequency and intensity. This not only affects breeding plovers and their young, but also adult and fledgling survival during migration and on over-wintering grounds.

What Laws Protect Piping Plovers and Their Habitat?

Species at Risk Act (federal)

Migratory Bird Convention Act (federal)

Nova Scotia Endangered Species Act

Nova Scotia Wildlife Act

Nova Scotia Beaches Act

New Brunswick Species at Risk Act

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