Groups seek more volunteers as Piping Plover numbers remain low

The number of known breeding pairs of Endangered Piping Plovers in Nova Scotia is 45.

It’s not the lowest level ever, but there haven’t been many gains in recent years, says Doug van Hemessen.

Van Hemessen is the Nova Scotia Stewardship Coordinator for the Nature Conservancy of Canada. He said the number fluctuates between 45 and 60, so this year is “a bit down”.

Overall, the shorebird population has continued to decline significantly over the past 20 years, largely due to human interference. Causes include habitat loss, development, natural predators, and recreational use of beaches, such as people letting dogs run off leash and the use of motorized vehicles.

With the growing impact of climate change, another factor may be nests flooded or washed away by storm surges and high tides.

“People not knowing where they’re walking and dogs off leash can be a really big problem,” van Hemessen said.

The piping plover nests on the beaches and coastal dunes of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island between April and August before wintering in the south.

To raise awareness and recruit more local volunteers, Conservation and Birds Canada are hosting a open day and Saturday Conservation Site Tour from Thomas Raddall Provincial Park in Port Joli on the South Shore. There will be presentations on the plover, its habitat and its activities, with the free event open to all ages.

Van Hemessen said the event will highlight the bird’s plight and conservation efforts.

“Birds Canada has a program of volunteers and staff who put up symbolic fencing when plovers are nesting,” he said.

“They will be putting up posts and rope fencing inside and trying to have volunteers there at relevant times when there is likely to be human activity and trying to educate people to stay away from these areas.”

The reserve protects approximately 740 hectares in the Port Joli area, including habitats for piping plovers and other shorebirds. The bird breeds on the South Shore, in Pictou and Antigonish counties and in Cape Breton.

Birds Canada volunteers monitor Piping Plover sites during breeding season at 50 beaches in Nova Scotia. They monitor breeding pairs, nests, the number of eggs laid, and the number of chicks that hatch and later fly.

Shorebird populations have declined by 40% in Canada since 1970.

Things to know

NCC and Birds Canada urge beach users to do the following:

  • Read and obey the signs during your visit.
  • From April to August, stay away from fenced breeding areas marked with piping plovers and walk on wet sand near the water’s edge to avoid sensitive nesting habitats.
  • Keep pets on a leash.
  • Remove food waste and trash from the beach to avoid attracting predators.
  • Leave driftwood, seashells and seaweed on the beach, as piping plovers need them for food and protection from predators.
  • Do not drive any vehicles on beaches or dunes as they can disturb birds, crush eggs and chicks, and damage beach and dune habitat.
  • Report the location of piping plovers and their nests to the Canadian Wildlife Service of Environment Canada.
  • Support the charitable work of the Nature Conservancy of Canada and Birds Canada. Volunteering time, donating money and sharing information are ways to get involved.

The piping plover is a small, stocky shorebird that depends on its cryptic coloration to defend itself against predators. Adults weigh between 43 and 63 grams and have a total body length of 17 to 18 centimeters. They are able to reproduce at the age of one year and nest only in North America.

It usually selects the widest section of a beach for nesting. Plovers rarely nest in pure sand, but instead choose sandy areas with sparse vegetation or enough gravel, cobbles, cobbles, shell fragments, kelp (dry seaweed normally deposited by storms or the action tides or waves above the mean high tide mark) or other debris to provide camouflage for incubating birds and allow nests to be hidden from predators.

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