Conserve Wildlife Blog

New Jersey Piping Plover Breeding Population Rises Sharply in 2021

November 8th, 2021

By Todd Pover, Senior Wildlife Biologist

Pair of Piping Plovers Tending Nest. Courtesy of Northside Jim

The 2021 New Jersey piping plover breeding season was a classic “good news, bad news” result. According to the annual report released by the state’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program earlier this month, the breeding population increased to 137 pairs in 2021, third highest since federal listing in 1986. That is an unprecedented 33% rise over the previous year and just short of the record high of 144 pairs in 2003. On the downside, the number of chicks fledged statewide was just 0.85 chicks per pair, the lowest since 2013 and about half of the 1.50 federal recovery goal. The low productivity was largely the result of a severe Memorial Day weekend nor’easter and persistent predator activity throughout the season.

Holgate, a unit of the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, hosted 46 pairs, the most in the state. This site, which is monitored and managed by CWF through a cooperative agreement with the Refuge, has seen an astounding increase in piping plover pairs in recent years, up about 2.5 times from the 18 pairs it had in 2018. CWF also monitors Little Beach, the adjacent Refuge-owned site, where another 13 pairs nested in 2021. Combined the two sites had 59 nesting pairs, a new record, by far, for the Refuge. Unfortunately, like the statewide results, productivity was very low this year at both Refuge sites, combined only 0.80 chicks fledged per pair, about half the rate just a year ago. The Memorial Day weekend nor’easter flooded those sites, wiping out most nests, and although most of the pairs nested again afterwards, many of those renests (or hatched chicks) were lost to predators, especially coyotes at Holgate.

CWF also oversaw piping plover breeding at the National Guard Training Center, which had just one pair in 2021, but that nest successfully hatched and fledged three chicks, helping boost the state average. Overall, CWF was responsible for monitoring 44% of the statewide population, giving it a significant role in helping guide conservation of this highly vulnerable state endangered (and federally threatened) species.

Although CWF does not conduct the daily on-the-ground monitoring and management of piping plovers at the Barnegat Inlet nesting site, it was a co-leader of the habitat restoration that was completed there two winters ago, and as such has had a big role in the nesting outcomes at the site. The number of pairs using the site has noticeably grown, up to five pairs in 2021 from just one pair when the project began. Productivity has also been consistently high at the restoration site and 2021 was no different with the pairs exceeding the federal recovery goal and statewide average with 1.6 chicks fledged per pair this year.

With the breeding results for 2021 now “in the books”, we are already looking forward to next year. The biggest question will be whether the state can sustain the progress towards recovery it made this year, especially given the big drop in productivity, which typically drives population. But for now, all we can do is wait until next spring to learn the answer to that question.

To read the state’s entire 2021 piping plover report:

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One Response to “New Jersey Piping Plover Breeding Population Rises Sharply in 2021”

  1. Joe Hayburn says:

    Great news!

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