Coming Back from making the Endangered Species List in the 1960’s
The Story of Piping Plovers These ghost-white little shorebirds were common breeders on the expansive sandy beaches of the Northeast before the late 1800’s. From then into the early 1900’s they were shot indiscriminately by hunters. Conservation laws were non-existent.
In the mid 1900’s the pristine beaches were impacted by 4-wheel drive “beach buggies” and dog owners letting their dogs roam at will. Plover numbers were so low that they made the Endangered Species List in the 1960’s. In response to declining populations of Piping Plovers, the Coastal Waterbird Program (CWP) was launched in 1986.
”We can thank the hard work of Mass Audubon and Mass Wildlife’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program for their efforts” recounts Peter Alden. “They closed many popular beaches to vehicles and free-ranging dogs until early July when the young chicks were able to fly off from danger.” Peter recalled the controversy back in the 1980’s when the program was introduced – “The beach-buggy folk were upset. They responded with bumper stickers stating 'Piping Plovers taste like Chicken' and other forms of protest”.
The program worked. Since Mass Audubon launched its Coastal Waterbird Program to monitor, study, and protect vulnerable birds that nest on beaches, Piping Plovers and other birds are making a comeback. From 100 or so pairs in state in the 1980’s we now host well over 2000 pairs.
Record Numbers of Piping Plovers Nest on Mass. Beaches
Massachusetts has witnessed a faster recovery of these birds compared to other states on the East Coast, with about half of the world's piping plovers now nesting in the state, as reported by Mass Audubon last week. This underscores the critical importance of coastal conservation efforts in Massachusetts for the protection of a large fraction of this globally threatened species.
This year, the state's coastline saw a record-breaking number of approximately 1,145 nesting pairs of piping plovers, a significant rise from the less than 200 pairs in 1986, marking an increase of over 500%. The recent arrival of piping plovers has led them to areas like Chatham, Cohasset, Gloucester, and Scituate, where they haven't been seen in many years, according to the group.
Additionally, Mass Audubon noted a 12% increase in the number of American oystercatchers in the state this year, with a count of 238 breeding pairs. However, there was a slight decrease in the number of Least Terns, from 3,691 breeding pairs last year to 3,565 in 2023. Mass Audubon, which directly protects 53% of the Least Terns in Massachusetts during their nesting period, remains optimistic about providing safer breeding environments for these birds in the future.
“This is exciting to see, but we need to keep our vigilance with shorebirds” added Peter. “We all need to do our best to support our conservation organizations and be aware of our fragile ecosystems.”