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Piping plover populations are rising back up in Delaware

piping plover dnrec.jpg
Division of Natural Resources and Environmental Control
Piping Plover Program- DNREC

“They are a grayish, sandy-colored shorebird, and you’re most likely to see them out here on the coast in Delaware on the Atlantic Coast beaches, and particularly in Cape Henlopen State Park,” said Coastal Avian Biologist Henrietta Bellman, who adds that as a federally-listed threatened species and a Delaware state-listed endangered species, the chance of spotting a piping plover is very small.

Bellman is part of the DNREC Division of Fish and Wildlife’s team working on piping plover recovery efforts.

Along with efforts to protect the small bird, the team also monitors their nesting success, which is measured by the number of chicks per nesting pair that make it to fledglings.

This has been an ongoing challenge since 1989, and from 2018 to 2020, Delaware saw high rates of nesting productivity, exceeding the 1.5 fledgling per pair goal.

But in 2021, it plunged, going from about 2.5 fledglings per pair the previous year to 0.8.

“And we assume this might be because of increased predation pressure from mammalian predators, as well as things like areas that were previously available for nesting are starting to revegetate,” said Bellman.

Piping plovers lay their eggs directly in the sand, making them susceptible to a number of threats. In an effort to eliminate some of those threats, Bellman and her team set up nest exclosures that protect the eggs from predators and accidental crushing.

But Bellman says the climate also plays a big role in the birds’ nesting success- something they can’t control.

“Every single year is different with these birds. And the coastal system that these birds use are really dynamic, which means that even if we have an idea of what the season will look like, inevitably we are humbled by nature and how it behaves,” she explained.

Fortunately in 2022, the number of fledglings shot back up.

24 nesting pairs have successfully raised a total of 34 fledglings, bringing the number from 0.8 per pair back up to about 1.4 per pair. This indicates the downward trend may not continue into 2023.

Piping plovers start nesting in March and stay in Delaware until September. In that time certain areas of Delaware's beaches may be closed off.

DNREC warns visitors that trespassing in closed areas can have dramatic effects on piping plover recovery efforts.

Trespassers can cause adults to leave nests, which can put eggs in harm's way, or interrupt feeding efforts of adults and chicks.

For those who would like to aid in piping plover recovery efforts, they can visit the Piping Plover Program page.

Quinn Kirkpatrick was born and raised in Wilmington, Delaware and a graduated of the University of Delaware. She joined Delaware Public Media in June 2021