Plover Chicks: A Few Fewer

This year’s piping plover chicks have fledged, adding 35 young plovers to the limited population of the endangered birds after a protective watch and efforts to keep people, vehicles, dogs, and other predators away from them. The species is protected under federal law.

Juliana Duryea of East Hampton Town’s Natural Resources Department reported to the town board earlier this month that 34 plover pairs had returned to 15 different places where they had previously nested, including the bay beaches at Louse Point and King’s Point in Springs and the ocean shore on Napeague.

On average, the plovers successfully raised one chick per pair, fewer than in previous years, Ms. Duryea said.

In 2014, the fledge rate averaged 1.5 chicks per pair, and in 2015, two chicks per pair. Last year, the plover couples raised an average of 2.5 chicks each. Even with the dip in fledglings this year, said Ms. Duryea, East Hampton’s plover count remains close to the goal set by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service for procreating plovers, of at least 1.5 chicks per pair over a five-year period.

Plovers nest in the sand, where they are vulnerable to all kinds of disturbance and predation. “I’ve been seeing a lot of foxes,” Ms. Duryea said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service administers a plover protection program nationwide, but has delegated the responsibility in East Hampton to the town.

While the federal agency might choose to close off all access to beaches where plovers are observed, by keeping close tabs on plover pairs and chicks, the Natural Resources Department aims to minimize beach closures, tailoring decisions to bar vehicles or pedestrians to the exact locations of nests or chicks.

During nesting, all access to nesting areas must be prohibited. Once the eggs hatch, the protected areas often expand, as the hatchlings wander around the beach. “When the chicks are roaming around the beaches, we have to restrict trucks,” said Ms. Duryea. Pedestrians, however, may be let into such areas.

This year, a part of the Napeague ocean beach where vehicles gather, known as Truck Beach, was affected for a time, prompting Diane McNally, a town trustee, to complain at the Aug. 8 town board meeting. “As a trustee, I’d like to know before the fence goes up,” she said.  More people monitoring the birds, she said, could make it unnecessary to shut down large areas of the beach.

Volunteers have worked with Ms. Duryea to track plovers in areas including Sammy’s Beach in East Hampton, Lion’s Head and Clearwater Beach in Springs, and in Amagansett, Kim Shaw, the natural resources director, said.

Piping plovers were common along the Atlantic Coast during the 19th century, but were nearly wiped out after their feathers became a popular trim for ladies’ hats. Increased development and recreation along the beaches where they nest also contributed to the population’s decline, and the birds were protected under the federal Endangered Species Act in 1986. The Atlantic Coast population of plovers is currently listed as threatened.

Piping plovers, small, stocky, sandy-colored birds similar to sandpipers, may be seen in groups on the beaches at this time of year. By mid-September, adult and young plovers have usually migrated south to their wintering grounds from North Carolina to Florida.