The number of plover chicks to reach flight age or “fledge” in 2020 was down from 2019.
Piping plovers are small shorebirds that nest only on sandy beaches with sparse vegetation. The piping plover population is, according to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), "an indicator of the health of the fragile beach ecosystem."42
In 1984, only 30 nesting piping plovers were observed in Connecticut. In 2020, 58 pairs successfully raised 58 young plovers on Connecticut beaches. Scientists estimate that each pair must successfully raise an average of 1.20 young per year to maintain a stable population and an average of 1.50 young per year to successfully increase the population of piping plovers to sustainable levels. In 2020, Connecticut plovers raised an average of 1.0 chicks per nest, which is the worst productivity since 1993. Some of the causes for the low productivity include: 1) heavy human visitation of beaches during the early breeding season, 2) nest predation resulting from erecting fewer nest enclosures as a consequence of COVID-19 precautions, and 3) issues with dogs on beaches, especially at State Park beaches.43 Since protection and monitoring efforts began in 1984, nesting success has generally improved, resulting in more returning adults in subsequent years. However, the modest size of the population requires that the species continue in threatened status at the state and national level.
Their habitat is a narrow strip squeezed between a rising Sound and higher ground. If their habitat is able to migrate upslope and inland in response to sea level rise, breeding areas could increase. However, habitat loss is anticipated on 45 percent of sandy ocean beaches that are already developed. Coastal flooding during breeding season may also affect piping plover breeding success by flooding nests and thereby increasing chick mortality.44
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2019 Atlantic Coast Piping Plover Abundance and Productivity Estimates, there were 2,008 breeding pairs along the Atlantic coast, with over 980 breeding pairs in New England!45
42 Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus) Atlantic Coast Population Revised Recovery Plan, May 2, 1996, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), www.fws.gov/northeast/pipingplover/pdf/entire_plan.pdf
43 DEEP, Wildlife; personal communication from L. Saucier, March 12, 2021.
44 USFWS, “Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus) 5-Year Review: Summary and Evaluation”, March 2020; ecos.fws.gov/docs/five_year_review/doc6378.pdf
45 USFWS, 2019 Atlantic Coast Piping Plover Abundance and Productivity Estimates; https://www.fws.gov/northeast/pipingplover/pdf/2019-Update-Final.pdf