Piping Plovers are specially adapted for nesting on open beaches. They are camouflaged to blend into the uniform habitat and are ever watchful for predators on the ground and in the sky. By nesting on the open beach, they can see threats coming from a long way away. People have changed the beach ecosystem dramatically, such as through shoreline development and pollution. Thus, humans are recognized as a large threat to Piping Plovers nesting successfully. The intent of the Piping Plover Recovery Program is to give Plovers the best shot at nesting successfully by reducing disturbances and threats.
How to tell if a Plover is feeling threatened:
Generally, people should try to give the birds space (aim for fifty metres, especially if you are observing them for a long period of time).
There are a few situations where you should leave an area calmly but quickly:
Broken-Wing Display – If predators come close to a nest, the adult Plover will attempt to distract them away from the nest location. The eggs in the nest are camouflaged, and because the nest is just a depression in the sand it is very difficult to locate on its own. Adult Plovers will move quickly away from the nest, and distract potential predators by faking an injury — in this case, a broken wing. This can be very effective, as long as the disturbances are infrequent. If you see a Plover dragging a wing near the ground, move away from the Plover while watching the ground around you. It is very likely that you have come very close to a nest and you should be observant to avoid accidentally stepping on it! Please report this behaviour to the Volunteer Coordinator.
Piping – Piping Plovers are named for their clear “pipe” call. If you hear a persistent ‘piping’ you may be getting too close to them. This call is used mainly when there are young chicks in the area. Your presence is stressful to the parent Plover — so try your best to locate the family and move around them. Try not to come between the adults and the chicks. If you wish to observe a family of Piping Plovers, do so from a distance. Piping is also used if a Merlin, also a predator, is in the area. Giving Plovers space to get away from this fast predator is important.
Piping Plovers can nest successfully even in areas of high use with a few helpful protection measures and the cooperation of beach goers. Legally, Piping Plovers, their nests, and the habitat necessary for their survival are protected by multiple pieces of federal and provincial legislation, including the Endangered Species Act (Ontario), Species at Risk Act (Canada) and the Migratory Birds Convention Act (Canada). The Ontario Endangered Species Act protects individuals from a variety of actions — including causing harm, harassment, or death. To help the Piping Plovers nest successfully, and to help beachgoers abide by these laws, a few protection measures used on the beach are described below:
Predator exclosures are cage-like structures that are placed around nests of Piping Plovers to exclude predators from the eggs. They are made so that adult Plovers and their chicks can move freely in and out, keeping larger predators like Merlins, crows, gulls, foxes, and domestic pets away from the eggs. Shortly after, there will be a roped off area of an approximately fifty metre radius placed around the nest. This is called a Perimeter Fence and it has signs that prohibit entry by anyone other than authorized personnel. The Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP), Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) and Birds Canada staff construct the exclosures to minimize the risk of Plovers abandoning a nest site. These cages also protect the nest from accidental damage by people. To construct and place the cages, one must have specialized training and acquire permits from federal and provincial agencies. All staff members of the differing agencies, as well as Plover Lover Volunteers, are also trained to keep an eye out for all threats that could harm Piping Plovers in order to keep records, study Plover vs. predator behaviour and, in some cases, attempt to diffuse potential predatory situations.
Gulls, commonly referred to as “seagulls,” are often also on the beach. These birds, which usually represent three different species (herring gull, ring-billed gull, great black-backed gull), can be predators of young Piping Plover chicks.
Please avoid feeding gulls whether intentionally or by accident. The parent Plovers have been seen defiantly defending their turf and their young; but they are no match for the bigger and more numerous gulls.
Other shore birds, including Dunlin, Sanderling, and “peeps” (a group of similar shore birds including the Least Sandpiper and Semipalmated Sandpiper) also migrate through the area. These birds species are not a threat to Piping Plovers, instead providing safety in numbers.
Birds of prey can occasionally be seen overhead. Fish-eating Ospreys and Bald Eagles are not a threat to the Piping Plovers, nor are opportunistic Turkey Vultures. Merlins, which are small falcons, are a major threat to Piping Plover adults and chicks. Because of the Merlin’s speed, it is best to give the Plovers enough space to get away from them.
Click an image to learn more!