Each spring and summer, we walk many miles of Vineyard beaches to locate and protect nesting Piping plovers (Charadrius melodus) , American oystercatchers (Haematopus palliatus), and Least terns (Sterna antillarum). BiodiversityWorks cooperates with private landowners and beach associations to monitor and protect these nesting birds so that people and birds may co-exist. We focus on locating pairs, protecting them from human disturbance and abundant predators (primarily crows, skunks, gulls, and cats), and sharing our appreciation for the birds with people we meet on the beach.
Atlantic Coast Piping plovers are federally protected as a ‘threatened’ species, and they are also protected under the Massachusetts endangered species act. Currently, there are ~ 1,700 pairs nesting from Newfoundland to North Carolina. The recovery goal for this population is 2,000 pairs. In 2011, we protected 24 pairs of Piping plovers at 9 sites, and these pairs fledged 24 chicks. Click here to read more about the Piping plover and here for a slideshow.
We use predator exclosures at some sites to protect piping plover nests from egg predators. It takes 3 -4 people about 15 minutes to exclose a plover nest, and we must have a permit from the state to use these exclosures. We are grateful when volunteers are able to help us. The plovers walk through the fencing to sit on their eggs. Both the male and female incubate the eggs, switching 2-3 times per hour for approximately 27 days.
Least terns are protected as a ‘species of special concern’ in Massachusetts, and they often share nesting habitat with Piping plovers.
We protect 3-4 colonies of Least terns, and in 2011 they comprised about 75 pairs. This species is remarkable in that it can nest in colonies ranging from just a few pairs to hundreds of pairs. Click here to learn more about Least terns.
We can’t always predict the location or size of a colony from year to year, so Least terns require that we be able to respond quickly to colony initiation with protective predator fencing. Even one skunk raiding for eggs can cause complete colony failure in only a few days. In 2011, a peregrine falcon caused abandonment of several tern colonies on the island.
American Oystercatchers are easily spotted on beaches, salt marshes, and small islands where they nest. In 2011, we protected 9 pairs of oystercatchers that fledged 5 chicks.
We are collaborating with the American Oystercatcher Working Group and Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences to locate new nesting areas, protect nesting pairs, band adults and chicks, re-sight banded birds from prior years, and to learn more about the migration habits of these birds.
If you are interested in volunteering with our beach-nesting bird program, visit our volunteer page for more information.