Wildlife Research, Monitoring & Mentoring

Beach-nesting Bird Update June 2024

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June is the most hectic month when it comes to shorebird monitoring on Martha’s Vineyard. The surge of summer visitors coincides with the highest density of shorebird hatching events, so each day brings more and more foot-prints of both the five-toed and three-toed varieties. The earliest hatched nests have chicks approaching their fledge date; more recently hatched chicks are running all over the beach, and there are still many eggs waiting to hatch.

With this much going on we need to keep our head on a swivel, and on the 19 nesting sites we monitor, you will see BiodiversityWorks staff staring intently through binoculars identifying pairs, searching for nests, or counting chicks, fastidiously collecting data on the protected shorebird and seabird species that nest on the Vineyard Beaches.

BiodiversityWorks monitors five beach-nesting species: American oystercatchers, piping plovers, least tern, common tern, and black skimmer. In the paragraphs below we will provide you a brief update on how the season is going so far.

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American Oystercatchers

Perhaps the biggest story of the year so far is the success of the American oystercatchers (AMOY) we monitor. We’ve had the same number of AMOY pairs as last year (18), but have already surpassed the numbers of chicks hatched last year (36 in 2023 and 40 in 2024 already). We appear primed to blow the 2023 number of fledglings out of the water (19 in 2023 and already 23 in 2024, with 10 more chicks already hatched and growing!). When asked about our oystercatchers this year, I find myself knocking on wood as it appears too good to be true! Oystercatcher breeding success is notoriously variable from year to year. This is a long-lived bird, though, and “big years” like this one are critically important to the species, making up for many other seasons with low or even zero recruitment.

Piping Plovers

While not off to the record-breaking start that the oystercatchers are on, the piping plovers we monitor are steadily progressing towards a solid year themselves. During the state-wide plover census at the beginning of this month, we counted 43 pairs on the 15 beaches we monitor, but we now have 47 pairs. From these 47 pairs, 21 nests have hatched 79 chicks and 13 nests are still incubating. Plovers initiate nesting later than oystercatchers, so the first three plover chicks just fledged. We are currently monitoring 54 chicks and hope to report a lot of fledlings next month! You can help them by paying attention when you are near posted nesting areas. If you hear a soft peeping on these beaches, Stop. Look. Listen. You may see a plover family outside of a posted area in search of food in the intertidal zone. Give them space so they feel safe. With your help, they will survive and thrive

a sand colored bird with a black neck ring and orange bill with a fuzzy chick

Terns and Skimmers

Since terns and skimmers are colonial nesters, it is much harder to get a nest-by-nest read on hatching and fledging success than it is with plovers and oystercatchers. Instead, we gauge the colony’s health as a whole through a mixture of quantitative and qualitative survey methods that essentially track if the colony is growing, stable or failing. Across all our sites, we have five least tern colonies, one common tern colony, and one solitary black skimmer nest in the middle of one of the least tern and common tern colonies. Our largest colonies number roughly 150 incubating pairs, while many of the others are 10-20 pairs. This is far fewer terns than we’ve monitored in the past, but this is largely because the vast majority of terns and skimmers are in a huge colony at Norton Point, which winter storms modified into prime nesting habitat for this season. As terns and skimmers are adapated to take advantage of these habitat changes from year to year, we were not surprised when the colonies relocated to Norton Point where MassAudubon’s team is monitoring their nest stuccess. The smaller colonies we are monitoring may be successful. Chicks of all three species were observed this week!

LETE w chicks in nest at Little beach
<a href="https://biodiversityworksmv.org/author/silas-beers/" target="_self">Silas Beers</a>

Silas Beers


Silas joined the BiodiversityWorks team in 2022 as the Wildlife Technician. Good luck catching him in the field, though! Depending on the day he could be out on the beaches searching for shorebird nests, trudging through a bog tracking turtles, hunkering down in the woods catching bats, or wherever else the day's wildlife adventure requires. He currently lives in West Tisbury but grew up in Virginia, receiving a B.S. in Wildlife Conservation from Virginia Tech in 2021.

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