State of the Birds 2020 Highlight: Piping Plovers and the Audubon Alliance.
December 8, 2020 — Connecticut’s Piping Plovers fared poorly during the 2020 breeding season. Because of the COVID-19 lockdown, the Audubon Alliance for Coastal Waterbirds was forced to cut back on its protection work. Only when restrictions were eased during summer and the work-pace picked up did Piping Plovers do better.
Scott Kruitbosch, who helps organize the Audubon Alliance in his role as manager of Connecticut programs for the Roger Tory Peterson Research Institute, wrote about it in our Connecticut State of the Birds 2020 report, which we officially released last week.
The report is called “Pandemic: Conservationists scramble in the field, the lab, and the legislature.” If you’re a Connecticut Audubon member, you should have received your copy in the mail. If you’re not, you can find a link here. (There’s also a video of the release event last Thursday.)
Here is a key section of Scott’s report about the Alliance’s work during the pandemic:
Because of the lockdown, “Piping Plovers, a federally-threatened species that is a particular target of the alliance, ,,, would have to go without the exclosures that we place around nests each spring. The exclosures are wire cages that let the plovers come and go while helping to prevent predators—mammalian and avian—from devouring the nest. Along with string fencing, they also serve as a secondary barrier to help keep people away, greatly improving the nesting success rate. But since setting them up while minimizing disturbance to the birds is a delicate operation that requires many people, the lack of exclosures in 2020 led to many nest losses. Thankfully, Piping Plovers re-nest up to three times, and most made a second or third attempt. Nevertheless, each attempt decreases the chance for success. This was a frustrating situation, especially when combined with high tides, freezing temperatures, and snow in May, plus the much more numerous human disturbances. …
“The Piping Plover numbers compiled by CT DEEP and our alliance depict an arduous season. As of mid-August, 58 pairs of Piping Plover on 81 nests (several pairs re-nested) fledged 58 young — a productivity rate of one chick per nest. That was the lowest productivity rate in Connecticut since 1993. Considering our unparalleled triumphs over the past decade, I’d argue that this unfortunate data is the direct result of the multitude of obstacles COVID-19 created both on the beaches and behind the scenes. It shows us how vital the collective efforts of agencies, staff, volunteers, and municipalities are in managing the Piping Plover to success—from exclosures to education, surveys to signage, caring stewards and compassionate beachgoers.”
From 2000 til now, the average yearly productivity has been almost 1.9 fledglings per nest (see the table below). That’s an excellent total. Patrick Comins, Connecticut Audubon’s executive director, believes that if it were achieved throughout the Piping Plover’s range, the species would be headed from removal from the threatened species list.
The great results when the Alliance is working at full force compared to the poor results in 2020 is strong evidence of the Alliance’s effectiveness.
Here’s an excerpt from the 2020 State of the Birds recommendations and actions page:
“If it’s safe for small groups of people to work together outside in 2021, the Audubon Alliance for Coastal Waterbirds will be back at full strength. But even if that’s the case, 2020 showed that when it comes to protecting threatened coastal birds there’s a need for greater cooperation from people who aren’t engaged directly in conservation.
“Local birders and photographers could be more mindful of being good stewards. With more people spending their off time on the beaches in 2020, nesting birds were too often chased or pursued by cameras, binoculars, and smartphones. Beachgoers, please heed the polite requests of shorebird monitors to keep your distance. And please obey local ordinances that prohibit dogs from many of the nesting areas in the nesting season.
“Better yet, volunteer for the Alliance. You’ll get a greater understanding of conservation; you’ll help educate others on how to reduce a source of stress on the birds; you’ll make a positive contribution to the well-being of the threatened species.
“Local, state, and federal law enforcement should ensure that officers learn the applicable environmental laws and regulations, and enforce them. These include laws restricting dogs and ATVs, and laws about harassing or harming protected species.”
Here are the Piping Plover numbers, year by year.
|Year||Pairs||Chicks||Chicks per nest|