Conserve Wildlife Blog

A first of the season

April 26th, 2010

The first piping plover nest of the season in New Jersey has been found!

Todd Pover, Beach Nesting Bird Project Manager

A piping plover lures predators away from its nest by pretending it has a broken wing. © Christina Kisiel

It has already been a very busy Spring season. Finding the first piping plover nest of the year is always a highly anticipated moment and for our staff it came a little earlier than normal when it was found last week at Stone Harbor Point. And our nest wasn’t the first one found in New Jersey this year – honors for that go to the staff at the National Park Service, who found a nest a on April 11th at the Coast Guard base at Sandy Hook. In the same vein, our colleagues up at Massachusetts Audubon’s Coastal Waterbird Program found a nest on April 13th; the earliest ever recorded in Massachusetts!

So is there a trend going on? Perhaps the impacts of global climate change?

Well, it is definitely premature to make that conclusion. New Jersey’s earliest nest was recorded on April 6th, nearly a decade ago during the 2000 breeding season. And there doesn’t seem to be any clear trend to when our first nest was found looking over the past 25 years, although the third week of April is more typical.

An adult piping plover lures a predator away from its nest. © Christina Kisiel

It has been documented that some bird species are arriving on their breeding grounds and/or initiating nesting earlier, but we think the early start to piping plover nesting in New Jersey this year is the result of weather conditions. In this case the long run of relatively warmer than normal temperatures in late March and early April (including several days over 80 degrees), likely account for the early start, essentially jump starting the hormones of the birds. We often observe more active breeding activity on warm days during the early part of the season, but in a typical spring, cold spells slow things back down.

Regardless of what kicked the season off early, our seasonal monitors are definitely off and running. Piping plovers began arriving in New Jersey in March and with the help of dedicated volunteers and our partners at other federal agencies, we have already protected nesting areas with fence and signs at nearly twenty sites. And that is just the start.

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