PROTECTING PLOVERS: USFW calls for volunteers

Pen and ink by Hugh Markey

How do you help a bird that seems bound and determined to put itself in harm’s way? The Piping Plover, a small bird that frequents South County beaches, has a habit of building its nests right on the sand. The same camouflage that makes its eggs remarkably difficult for predators to see also means they may be accidentally stepped on by beachgoers and their pets. Fortunately, US Fish and Wildlife (USFW) is recruiting volunteers to watch over the little birds.

On Saturday, April 29, USFW will hold a training session at Kettle Pond Visitor’s Center in Charlestown for those interested in learning about plovers and how to protect them. The training, from 1:00 – 3:00, will provide information on protecting nesting territories, teaching the public about plover biology and local laws, beach monitoring, and documenting Plover activity at the nesting sites.

Jennifer White, Plover Coordinator with USFW, says “There’s no expected number of hours involved in plover monitoring. Some go out daily; others may just walk on the weekend or during the week. We’re happy with what we get.

“There’s a lot of beach to cover. This year we have three interns who just came on after finishing their bachelor’s degrees. Plus, we have a lot of people who have been trained earlier. But we need a lot of help.”

The heavy lifting in plover monitoring is already done. In March, as the male plovers begin to arrive from their winter homes in tropical areas like Bermuda, USFW is there watching. The males begin to claim nesting areas, making “scrapes”, or small divots in the sand. Based on those observations, USFW puts up poles and yellow ropes to alert the public about the nesting areas. It’s strenuous work that requires a lot of bodies: “So far we’ve had East Greenwich High School students who have helped put up poles and ropes at Napatree. We had a URI group roping and putting up signs as well.”

Later, females will lay eggs in the divots carved by the males. The marble-sized eggs are laid directly on the sand or, at best, a few shell fragments. If the parent is disturbed by dogs or people, the eggs are exposed to potential predators such as gulls. Absent parents also means the egg temperature may change, resulting in an egg that won’t hatch.

White is cautiously optimistic about the local population levels. “The numbers are increasing. We had 98 nesting pairs at different beaches last year. That’s from all the efforts of volunteers, exclosures (cages designed to protect nests while keeping predators out), and just getting the word out.”

“People love birds and bird behavior. The beach is the Plover’s home, and we want to help them live in their home and reproduce successfully, and not have them disappear from the beaches. Piping Plovers are as much a part of the beach as sand, invertebrates, or other life. People love them and want to come see them. It’s a nice thing to have and protect.” For more information about volunteering, contact .

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