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The Piping Plovers of Cape Cod

During my last trip to Cape Cod, my husband and I were walking along the beach and we saw these cute little birds all over the place that we hadn't really seen elsewhere.  We took a video of them walking around and then later in our trip we learned that those cute birds are called piping plovers.  These birds are so precious to Cape Codders that some beaches on the Cape are actually closed to protect the breeding habitat of the piping plover!

Piping Plover, Endangered Species

Piping plovers are shorebirds that migrate to the Cape in the spring from the coasts of the Southern US and Caribbean.  They can also be found in the Great Lakes Region and parts of Canada.

They nest in little depressions in open flats, laying four eggs to a clutch. When the chicks hatch, they can run around and feed themselves within just a few hours.  Impressive, huh?

Piping plovers nesting in the Great Lakes are listed as endangered and piping plovers nesting along the Atlantic Coasts and in the northern Great Plains of the US and Canada are listed as threatened.  In Massachusetts, the plovers are protected under the Federal and Massachusetts Endangered Species Act.

In the 1800s and early 1900s, the piping plover's feathers (and other types of feathers) were used for decorations in women's hats.  This caused the initial decline of the piping plovers, however, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 helped recover the population until the 1930s.

The Piping plover was declared endangered or threatened in 1985, and for a few reasons.  One reason is due to hurricanes.  A hurricane can eliminate their habitat, leaving them no place to breed.  Another reason is due to people simply going to the beach and building beach homes.  And lastly, off-road vehicles are also detrimental to the habitat of the piping plover. Their nests will often get stepped on our crushed. Poor little guys.  The population in the Great Lakes dwindled down to only a few dozen and a population in Ontario has completely disappeared!

By 1986, there were only 800 pairs of piping plovers along the entire Atlantic coast!  Because of this, the US Wildlife and Fishery Service implemented a program for the plovers

Populations have increased quite a bit since the protection programs began.  You can see them all over Cape Cod, but the species still remains in danger. Today's conservation strategies are preserving nesting sites, educating people about the plovers, limiting and preventing pedestrian and off-road vehicles near nesting areas, and keeping animals like dogs, skunks, raccoons, and more from preying on them.

Nancy Finle of the National Park Service has said that the efforts in Massachusetts and namely Cape Cod have played a significant role in the piping plover's comeback.

We learned a bit more about the piping plover and other Cape Cod wildlife at the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History in Brewster, MA.  Anyone interested in the wildlife and natural history of the Cape should visit it!