Beach-Nesting Bird Protection


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.

Piping plover with chick – Lanny McDowell Avian Art

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 ~ 1,900 pairs nesting from Newfoundland to North Carolina. The recovery goal for this population is 2,000 pairs, with an average productivity of 1.5 chicks per pair over a five year period.

In 2014, we protected 33 pairs of Piping plovers at 14 sites, and these pairs fledged 36 chicks. Click here to read more about the Piping plover and here for a slideshow.



A predator exclosure protecting a Piping plover nest

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 26 days.


Least terns are protected as a ‘species of special concern’  in Massachusetts, and they often share nesting habitat with Piping plovers.

Least tern at nest – Lanny McDowell Avian Art

We protect 3-6 colonies of Least terns annually.  This species is remarkable in that it can nest in colonies ranging from just a few pairs to hundreds of pairs. In 2014, a colony of 400 pairs at Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation’s Little Beach Eel Pond was very successful.  We used a low fence to prevent skunks and raccoon from walking out to the sand spit where the terns were nesting.  Click here to learn more about Least terns.


volunteers and staff install a predator fence across the spit at Little Beach/Eel Pond



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 2014, we protected 12 pairs of oystercatchers that fledged 12 chicks, which is great productivity !

American Oystercatcher – Lanny McDowell Avian Art

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.

Click here to learn more about the American Oystercatcher.

If you are interested in volunteering with our beach-nesting bird program, visit our volunteer page for more information.