BANDED PIPING PLOVER CONTINUES TO DEFY EXPECTATIONS
by Todd Pover, Beach Nesting Bird Project Manager
Some of you may recall an earlier blog (If At First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try, and Try Again, July 27, 2011) posted by Emily Heiser, one of our seasonal technicians, in which she
reported on a piping plover that had nested four times this
year. One reason we know so much about this individual bird is because it is one of just a few banded piping plovers found in New Jersey-it was originally banded in the winter of 2010 in the Bahamas.
This specific bird, dubbed Bahama Mama by our staff, was first observed this year at North Brigantine Natural Area on March 29. It spend the next several months finding a mate, laying and incubating eggs, and finally trying to raise young, a cycle that ended unsuccessfully near the beginning of August. Normally that would be the end of the story for this year, but because we are conducting post-breeding/migratory piping plover surveys once a week at this site through the end of October, we have more to report.
As of last week, Bahama Mama was still present at the same site, nearly two months after breeding concluded and six months after she first arrived. The fact that she has remained there well after the nesting season ended is a huge surprise and defies conventional expectations. We fully expected her to be on her way back to the Bahamas by now.
So is Bahama Mama’s behavior normal or is she more of an outlier? Unfortunately, without more banded individuals and more intense survey effort all along the migration path, it is difficult to say for certain. But even with just a small part of the population banded, we have learned that piping plovers have VERY strong fidelity (attachment) to both their breeding and wintering sites.
With Bahama Mama hanging in the same location into the fall, we are also learning that perhaps some sites, such as the northern inlet section of North Brigantine Natural Area here in New Jersey, are just as important for staging piping plovers as for breeders. We already know this site is a magnet for other migratory shorebirds in the late summer and fall, so this makes sense. Bahama Mama has just helped clarify it.
Banded birds provide us with fascinating opportunities for field observations and study, but it goes beyond mere curiosity. This information can be used to help guide site management or establish policy. Eventually, Bahama Mama will leave us for the season, but hopefully she will return again next year to “teach” us more.