Piping Plovers Complete Trek To Safety, Stealing Hearts In The Process

Jun 13, 2018

A piping plover chick walks along a man-made path to the safety of the dunes at Roger Wheeler State Beach in Narragansett.
Credit Mike Stultz / RI DEM

After an unusual journey, a family of five piping plovers in Narragansett has made it safely to the beach.

The endangered birds had nested in a parking lot 100 yards away from Roger Wheeler State Beach, where they were vulnerable to predators and disturbances. To guide the birds to shore, state and federal environmental workers from the Fish and Wildlife Service built a sandy pathway through the parking lot.

 

“This [plover pathway] was many hundreds of feet long" said Mike Healey, Public Affairs Director for the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM). "Volunteers put beach sand into this chute, to simulate beach habitat and hopefully the parents would lead the chicks all the way to the dune"

"In terms of nest location, although the plovers picked a perfectly fine nest - for their purposes – but they did pick a nest that's a long way to the beach” Healey added.

 

DEM workers build a path to encourage the piping plovers to move from the parking lot to the relative safety of nearby dunes.
Credit RI DEM

Though the plover family has made it to the dunes, Healey says "the works not done.”

“They can't fly for about 30 days so these next few weeks are tricky ones," Healy said.

Although the beach holds the plovers’ food supply of bugs and small crustaceans, the plovers are vulnerable to attacks by crows and hawks. To help protect the chicks, the DEM has roped off the west end of the beach to create a “symbolic fence.”  The DEM expects beach visitors to play a role in supporting the chicks.

“There's so many things people can do to protect these little marvels: don't approach when you see them on the beach, just observe them and be happy that you can see them," Healy said. "Leave your pets at home and if you do bring your pet, make sure your dog is on a leash. Don't leave trash behind because trash attracts predators.”

There are fewer than 4,000 of these small, stocky birds on the Atlantic coast. But plover numbers in Rhode Island have increased from around 20 pairs in 1986 to about 100 today, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service. The birds were added to the Federal Endangered Species Act in 1986 when there were only 790 pairs on the Atlantic coast.

The plovers were not the only animals making a carefully watched trek yesterday: the internet breathlessly tracked the journey of a raccoon climbing up a skyscraper in St. Paul, Minnesota. Labelled by Minnesota Public Radio as #mprraccoon, he too has now reached safety on the roof of the 22 floor building.