New York Natural Heritage Program
Piping Plover
Charadrius melodus Ord, 1824
Birds

Threats [-]
Piping Plovers are subject to many significant threats including habitat loss, nest and chick predation, human disturbance, and low population numbers. Habitat loss has occurred over time as beaches have been converted for residential and recreational use. Natural succession and vegetative regrowth of the open sand beaches used for nesting decrease habitat quality for this species. Vegetation may restrict movements of the chicks from high quality foraging habitats and starvation in some areas has been a problem (Loegering and Fraser 1995). They are adapted to a fluctuating system where cycles of vegetative regrowth and set back occur due to weather systems creating sand deposits and washes. Habitat availability in some areas may be an issue if smaller habitat patches become vegetated without nearby expanses of sand scoured habitat for the birds to move into. Habitat availability for this species will only continue to decline with rising sea-levels and increased storms due to global climate change. Habitat fragmentation may also be a significant issue in some areas. Plover chicks are known to hide in or have difficulty crossing vehicle tracks in the sand and mortality from beach driving is a direct threat. Roads, residences, and high use areas fragment populations and limit travel to foraging areas. Beach management practices including raking and allowing ORV traffic may eliminate or reduce the wrack line left by the tide which is a prime foraging environment (Goldin 1993). Human activity not only limits habitat available to the plovers, but it is disruptive during the breeding season to adults and chicks (Goldin and Regosin 1998). Perhaps surprisingly, kite-flying near plover nesting areas is a threat as the adults are highly disturbed, perhaps viewing the kites as aerial predators (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2010). Adults may flush from nests exposing eggs to heat or cold and leaving eggs and chicks open to predation. Human presence near nesting habitats has likely increased nest predators such as raccoons, crows, and rats by providing them a food source, garbage.

Conservation Strategies and Management Practices [-]
Management of habitat for Piping Plovers requires not only protection of nesting areas from both human disturbance and high predation, but also conservation of foraging areas and safe access for the highly mobile chicks to these areas. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (2010) recommends the following: 1) Install a symbolic (string) fence with warning signs around Piping Plover courtship habitat at a minimum of 50 meters away from nest locations to prohibit human disturbance. 2) Ensure all human activities are kept outside the fenced area. 3) Keep pet cats indoors, keep dogs on a leash and prohibit feral cats. 4) Trash should not be left or buried on beaches since it attracts predators. 5) Consult with a biologist or plover monitor to determine areas of the beach that should not be raked. 6) Prohibit kite flying within 200 meters of fenced areas (Plovers are especially intolerant of them, perhaps perceiving them as aerial predators). 7) Prohibit fireworks on beaches with plovers. 8) Implement motor vehicle management and restrictions on occupied beaches, including closing all beaches with nesting plovers or foraging chicks according to the guidelines in The Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region Guidelines for Managing Recreational Activities in Piping Plover Breeding Habitat on the U.S. Atlantic Coast To Avoid Take Under Section 9 of the Endangered Species Act (available at http://www.fws.gov/northeast/pipingplover/pdf/recguide.pdf). Symbolic fencing should be erected at reliable nesting locations prior to the arrival of the birds in the spring and removed in the fall. Posting nesting areas from April 1st through August 31st habituates people to the seasonally off-limits area and protection efforts may be furthered by the presence of a steward on public beaches. Off-road vehicles, fireworks and off-leash pets should be restricted from beaches with nesting plovers from April 1st to August 31st as well. On beaches where driving is allowed it is recommended that all suitable Piping Plover habitat is fenced (Gibbons pers. comm.). Predator exclosures around nests have increased nesting success but are also controversial (Mabee and Estelle 2000, Murphy et al. 2003a, 2003b). Predators have learned to identify the wire exclosures and have actually increased nest predation in some areas. Chicks are precocial, or fully developed, once hatched and able to move large distances to and from the nest to forage in as little as one day after hatching. This means that nest exclosures do little to protect chicks from predation once they hatch. Electric or snow fencing may be used if predation is high and predator removal may be necessary and effective in some instances when a low number of raccoons, or rats are the issue.

Research Needs [-]
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation conducts annual population surveys of breeding sites and monitors productivity of many pairs, however, more comprehensive productivity data (on nesting success) are needed (Gibbons pers. comm.). This will determine if pairs are successful at producing offspring to ensure long-term population viability and will identify threats to specific sites such as human disturbance and predation so that management steps may be taken when needed. More information is especially needed on chick survivial and predation of chicks.