2015-05-08 / Community

First plover nests of season found along coast

On the heels of last year’s productive piping plover nesting season, Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge and Maine Audubon reported Monday, April 27 that the first nests of the 2015 season, found in Biddeford and Kennebunk.

With nearly 100 plover chicks taking flight from Maine beaches in 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Maine Audubon and Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife ask beachgoers and landowners to help returning plovers have just as much success in 2015.

“We’re excited to ask beachgoers this year to help us watch for piping plovers with pink flags on their legs, a sign that the bird has flown to Maine from the Bahamas,” said wildlife ecologist Laura Minich Zitske with Maine Audubon. “We still have a lot to learn about the birds when they leave our breeding grounds for wintering areas. In addition to pink flags, Mainers can look out for green flags on birds banded in South Carolina or Georgia and for gray or black flags on birds from Canada.”

Piping plovers are protected as endangered in Maine and as threatened under federal law. Federal guidelines request that pets be leashed and under control of their owners at all times from April 1 to Aug. 31 on beaches with plovers. Some areas prohibit dogs starting April 1 every year, including Ogunquit Beach, Crescent Beach State Park in Cape Elizabeth, Ferry Beach State Park in Saco, Scarborough Beach State Park, Popham Beach State Park in Phippsburg and Reid State Park in Georgetown.

Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have cooperative beach management agreements with the Bureau of Parks and Lands and the towns of Wells, Ogunquit, Old Orchard Beach and Scarborough.

“Cooperative beach management agreements and volunteer efforts have been critical in helping the population climb from barely two dozen surviving plover chicks in 2005 to nearly 100 last year,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Maine supervisor Laury Zicari. “We look forward to continuing this work with Maine landowners, volunteer monitors and beachgoers this season, and we urge towns to coordinate with us to support these tiny shorebirds that have nested on Maine's beaches for thousands of years."

Beachgoers can help plovers by:

 Respecting all areas fenced or posted for protection of wildlife.

 Watching plovers from a distance to avoid disturbing them.

 Following local pet ordinances. Dogs are predators of plovers. Federal guidelines recommend leashing even if not required by local ordinances.

 Taking trash or food scraps off the beach. Garbage attracts predators that may prey upon piping plover eggs or chicks.

 Volunteering and reporting bird sightings.

Shoreline habitat for nesting plovers has been reduced in Maine by 75 percent, once providing suitable nesting beach habitat for likely 200 pairs. Last year, 50 plover pairs – the most in the state since 2004 – raised 97 chicks to the age of flight (fledging). The 97 fledglings compose the third-highest number since monitoring began in Maine. Plovers nest in front of sand dunes on the upper beach and are vulnerable to natural predators, roaming pets, storms and human disturbance.

The Piping Plover Recovery Project, a nearly 30-year collaboration between Maine Audubon, the fish and wildlife service, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands and local municipalities, works to educate the public about plover nesting areas to ensure their protection and increase their population.

Those who find a plover nest, or who would like to volunteer for the Piping Plover Recovery Project may email lzitske@maineaudubon.org or call 233-6811.

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