Conserve Wildlife Blog

Posts Tagged ‘piping plover’

A Year of Surprises – New Jersey’s 2021 Beach Nesting Bird Season

Monday, January 3rd, 2022

By Todd Pover, Senior Wildlife Biologist

One of the hundreds of least tern chicks at the Pt. Pleasant colony in 2021. Courtesy of Lindsay McNamara.

With 2021 coming to an end, we thought it would be fun to look back at this year’s beach nesting bird season in New Jersey, focusing on some of the surprises.

At the top of the list is the huge jump in our piping plover breeding population, up to 137 pairs from just 103 in 2020, an unprecedented 33% increase in one year and the third highest on record for the state since federal listing. This was a much-needed bump, as productivity has been high over the past few years, but we weren’t seeing any sustained growth in the population as a result as would be typical. So, when the final pair number was tallied this year, we were both relieved and surprised at how big it was! The challenge now will be to maintain that higher level or increase it even more, as it has fluctuated up and down quite a bit in recent years.

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New Jersey Piping Plover Breeding Population Rises Sharply in 2021

Monday, 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:

Special Event Screening of Chicago Piping Plover Doc “Monty and Rose” SOLD OUT, Second Date Added

Thursday, March 11th, 2021

by Ethan Gilardi, Wildlife Biologist

Due to overwhelming demand, our first screening of the film about Monty and Rose, Chicago’s famous piping plovers, has REACHED CAPACITY.

In light of this, a second virtual showing has been added on Thursday March 25 from 7:00-8:15 pm EST.

Once again, the short film will be followed by a Q&A with Todd Pover, CWF’s Senior Wildlife Biologist and Bob Dolgan, the film’s creator. And just like the first showing, one lucky participant will also be chosen at random to win a Piping Plover Prize Pack! Prizes include a newly designed CWF PIPL hat and other assorted beach nesting bird goodies to be shipped right to your home.

Admission is free, but you’ll need to register at the link below.


What Is Monty & Rose?

Written and directed by Bob Dolgan, “Monty and Rose” tells the story of a pair of endangered piping plovers that nested at Chicago’s Montrose Beach in the summer of 2019, becoming the first of the species to nest in the city since 1955. With a music festival scheduled to take place within feet of the plovers’ nest site, volunteers, advocates, and biologists get to work in order to protect the vulnerable pair. The documentary follows these efforts, including interviews with those there to help this special pair nesting on one of the busiest beaches in Chicago.

About the Hosts:

Bob Dolgan is a life long birder and filmmaker from Chicago. He’s the founder of Turnstone Strategies, author of the This Week in Birding newsletter, and a past Board Member of Chicago Ornithological Society.

Todd Pover has been involved in research, monitoring, and management of beach nesting birds for over 25 years in New Jersey and other portions of the flyway. He heads up the CWF beach nesting bird project and leads our Bahamas piping plover wintering grounds initiative.

Watch the Official “Monty and Rose” Trailer:


The Return Of Piping Plovers

Tuesday, March 9th, 2021

by Todd Pover, Senior Wildlife Biologist

Piping Plover walks through a tidal pool. Photo courtesy of Northside Jim.

Any day now the first piping plover will be returning to New Jersey to nest. It will likely return to the same beach it nested on in previous years, possibly even the same part of the beach. It will be coming from the same wintering location it used in the past. And it probably even used the same stopover sites during migration. This attachment to place or “site fidelity” is one of the marvels of the birding world, not unique to plovers.

In some ways, it’s not so different for us. We order pizza from the same restaurant, time after time. Many of us vacation in the same place, year after year. And yes, we have been known to repeatedly visit our favorite beach. My parents took my sister and I to the beach at Seaside Heights for summer vacation every year when we were growing up. We went on the beach at the same street access, laid our blanket out at pretty much the same spot, ate at the same place on the boardwalk, EVERY time. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I realized I could travel or vacation elsewhere, and so I began visiting places far away, first Los Angeles and the Pacific Ocean, then the desert Southwest, and onto a lifetime of travel to “far flung” places.

And this is where the analogy with piping plovers ends. Plovers don’t travel on a whim. They can’t decide to fly to the west coast this year instead of their usual Atlantic Coast breeding locales. They are hard-wired for efficiency, their behavior is driven by survival and maximizing reproductive success. They return to the same beach because they know there is suitable nesting habitat and good foraging opportunities there, and “knowing that ahead of time” gives them a breeding advantage over other, younger plovers looking for and trying to establish new territories.

Piping plovers do have some capacity for change. They can shift locations if needed, especially if there is a significant alteration to their existing habitat, severe beach erosion, for example, or if they lose a mate in a given year and need to find a new one. There are, however, limits to this. They are “specialists” that require specific habitats and conditions. Furthermore, recent research on the wintering grounds suggest they will remain at the same location even if it is highly disturbed, and even if it negatively impacts their fitness. So, site fidelity usually trumps other factors.

Of course, all of this has conservation implications. Here in New Jersey, development at or near the beach has already limited both the amount and quality of beach habitat available for them to breed. Even if they wanted to “travel elsewhere” they don’t really have an option of other suitable places to go. And, the beaches remaining for them to use, with rare exceptions, are busy with people, which is not a good recipe for a species highly vulnerable to human disturbance. Still, given what we know about site fidelity, our best option is to “pull out all the stops”, put the strongest protection measures in place, at the sites that are left for them to nest.

This is what keeps me up at night, even after more than 25 years on the job. New Jersey is a tough place for piping plovers to succeed. It is not necessarily a losing battle, but it hasn’t always been a winning one either. As I gear up for another breeding season, I know that I and the dedicated community of other plover monitors will do everything we can to protect them and try to secure their future. But…we need your help too. Stay out of the fence or barriers erected to protect their nests, leave your dog at home, off of nesting beaches, and keep your distance when flightless chicks move outside the fence to feed at the waterline. Please enjoy them, but carefully and at a distance.

This reminds me of the lessons we’ve learned with the Covid pandemic this past year. We can’t beat it alone; we need to work together. We have to take actions that help each other, not just ourselves. This is the model for piping plover conservation too. We will keep protecting them, but ultimately, we need everyone’s help if piping plovers are going to succeed and eventually recover.

Join me on Team Plover!

Piping Plover Winter Report From the Bahamas

Monday, March 8th, 2021

by Chris Johnson, with forward by Todd Pover

Portion of flock coming in for a landing. Photo by Chris Johnson

Starting in 2011, Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ, led by Senior Wildlife Biologist Todd Pover, has been working in the Bahamas, primarily Abaco, to help study the habitat and distribution of wintering piping plovers.

Band resighting surveys are one of the important aspects of this work. As a result of severe damage from Hurricane Dorian in 2019 and current safety issues due to the Covid pandemic, regular surveys were not conducted this winter, either by CWF or the group of local volunteers who have assisted over the years.

With this in mind, we were delighted to get a very late winter report from Chris Johnson, a local resident and accomplished young birder. You can read his account of the survey and enjoy his photos below.


On February 26th, 2021 a large group of Piping Plovers was sighted and documented on a sand flat near Cherokee Sound on the island of Abaco in the Bahamas by local residents Christopher Johnson and Michael Knowles. The flat was teeming with bird life as many migratory shorebirds were preparing to begin their journeys back to the breeding grounds. Short-Billed Dowitchers, Black-Bellied Plovers, Least Sandpipers, and Semipalmated Sandpipers were a great find. However, the pinnacle of the birding trip was a grand total of 46 Piping Plovers!

Among the 46 plovers were three notable, returning plovers, recognizable from their leg bands: Squid (Right Leg-Green over Red, Left Leg-Blue over Black), Joe (Green Flag 70E) and White Flag 36. The behavior of these plovers surely indicated that they are on the brink of beginning their migrations northward. Many were beginning to gain their summer breeding plumage and were feuding over crustaceans and worms, while others were bickering for a mere resting place.

The substantial group of plovers stuck around on the sand flat that was slowly diminishing due to the rising tide and continued to rest and feed on the flat for another 25 minutes. It was apparent as the first flock congregated and took to the wing due east that they were bound for their roost in nearby Casuarina Point. After the majority group of 30, including Joe and White Flag #36 departed, a small group of 16 remained resting on the last segment of the flat. Within another ten minutes the second group of plovers had hightailed it for the Cherokee Creek System. The “Cherokee Group”, including Squid, would vanish into the dense mangrove ecosystem to get a good night’s rest.

A group of this size would suggest that many of these birds will begin their migrations back north within the coming weeks. Hopefully a successful breeding season lies ahead!

Piping plover marches along the beach. Photo by Chris Johnson.

Link to eBird Checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S82573290

Check out more photos by Chris on Instagram & Facebook.