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Combine tough little birds and diligent conservation with a bit of luck, and the result is a record year for threatened Piping Plovers at Milford Point

An adult Piping Plover in breeding plumage. Sixteen pairs have nested successfully on the Milford Point sandbar in 2023.

In the sanctuaries …

Read “With a record nesting season, one CT sandbar plays a critical role in piping plover comeback,” from the New Haven Register

July 24, 2023 — Piping Plovers are tough little birds. They have to be, considering where they nest. At Milford Point, for example, they can be harassed by destructively curious dogs, chased off by unobservant walkers, and flattened by off-road vehicles whose drivers ignore the no vehicles sign, not to mention eaten by foxes, crows, and raccoons.

When disasters strike, the plovers keep trying. Two years ago, a coastal storm that coincided with high tides strengthened by a full moon flooded nests on the Milford Point sand bar. The plovers tried again, and again. Eventually 11 pairs nested.

This year has been different. Although off-roaders are again a problem, walkers mostly heed the advice of the Connecticut Audubon coastal rangers who patrol the beach. Protective fencing has forced predators to eat things other than baby birds. And coastal storms have been rare.

The result: a record year for Piping Plovers at Milford Point.

Sixteen pairs of this federally-threatened species nested along the sandbar in 2023. As of today, 25 young birds have fledged and six others are preparing to.

Conservation biologists estimate that for the population of these small, vulnerable birds to increase across their range, they would need to average 1.5 fledged birds per nest.

At Milford Point this year, the average is already 1.6 and could reach 1.9 if the six unfledged babies make it.

The 1.9 is an encouragingly high number. And while it’s true that 63 birds (32 adults and 31 young) are a tiny fraction of the total of roughly 8,000 Piping Plovers in the U.S., it shows that diligent, concerted conservation work, plus a little luck from the weather, results in important improvements.

The two lighter birds, facing right, are Piping Plovers. As many as 31 baby Piping Plovers will fledge from Milford Point in 2023. The bird in the middle is a Semipalmated Plover, which nests near the Arctic and stops at Milford Point during migration.

Here’s are a few tips to help protect the shorebirds when you visit Milford Point

Over the previous 12 years, the number of nests in Connecticut has fluctuated between 45 and 66. Although the birds nest on 17 beaches, almost two-thirds of the nests are concentrated on only two: Sandy Point, which is owned by the city of West Haven, and Milford Point.

Milford Point is also important for American Oystercatchers, which are a threatened species in Connecticut. Three pairs fledged seven young this year. Interestingly, oystercatchers from around the region gather there at the end of nesting season as they prepare to migrate; already this year several dozen can be seen there.

Among nesting birds, though, Piping Plovers are the marquee species on the sand spit. While the weather plays a big role in their nesting success,  the ongoing conservation work at the Coastal Center is just as important.

At Milford Point, coastal rangers, supported by the Jeniam Foundation and Connecticut Audubon members, are on the beach every day during nesting season, protecting the birds and educating visitors.

Volunteers from the Audubon Alliance for Coastal Waterbirds help protect nests at Milford Point in addition to their work all along the state’s beaches. The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection guides the volunteers and staff in the placement of the protective fences that help keep predators away from nests.

It’s a long-term, ongoing project. Over the dozen or so years that the alliance has been operating, there’s been an average of 58 nests and 86 fledglings per year in Connecticut.

For the 15 years before the Audubon Alliance, there was an average of 32 nests and 55 fledglings per year. Over the entire 27-year period, nests in Connecticut have averaged 1.57 fledglings.

That’s a great record of success, at Milford Point and beyond. Your membership support and other contributions were essential in making it happen. Thank you!

Here are the Connecticut’s Piping Plover numbers, year by year.

YearPairsFledgedFledglings per nest






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