Photos of the Long Island Sound

Research & Monitoring

Status and Trends: LISS Environmental Indicators

Piping Plovers

CTDEEP Wildlife Division and NYSDEC

Piping Plovers (Nesting Pairs)
NY CT Total
1990  — 43
1991  — 36
1992  — 40
1993  — 24
1994  — 30
1995  — 31
1996  — 26
1997  — 26
1998  — 21
1999  — 22
2000 61 22 83
2001 69 32 101
2002 91 31 122
2003 83 37 120
2004 85 40 125
2005 69 34 103
2006 92 37 129
2007 92 36 128
2008 94 41 135
2009 89 44 133
2010 84 43 127
2011 73 52 125
2012 72 51 123
2013 60 45  105
2014 68 51  119
2015 79  62  141
2016 106

WHAT ARE PIPING PLOVERS?

Piping plovers (Charadrius melodus) are small shorebirds approximately seven inches long with sand-colored plumage on their backs and crown and white underparts. They nest on beaches, often with least terns. Plovers winter along Atlantic and Gulf coasts from North Carolina to the Yucatan Peninsula. Their nesting and reproduction are threatened by human intrusion, storm tides, and predators. The piping plover is listed as a federally threatened species, as a state threatened species in Connecticut, and as endangered in New York.

WHAT DOES THIS INDICATE?

The abundance of piping plovers indicates whether there is sufficient protected beach habitat for coastal birds and sufficient food supply of insect larvae, beetles, crustaceans, mollusks and other small marine animals and their eggs for the plovers to eat on beaches, dunes and in the tidal wrack.

STATUS

Since protection and monitoring efforts began in 1984, nesting success has improved, resulting in more returning adults. State wildlife officials credit intensive on-site management, including construction of predator-proof fences around nests to protect eggs. Also, more regulation of activities that impact beach habitats, public education campaigns, and the public’s cooperation have helped protect plover populations.

The objective of Atlantic Coast recovery plan for piping plovers is to increase and maintain for five years a total of 2,000 breeding pairs of piping plovers, distributed among four recovery units. The federal recovery plan in Connecticut, which is part of the New England recovery unit, calls  for 30 or more pairs of piping plovers that breed for five consecutive years. 2011 marked the 11th consecutive year that Connecticut had 30 or more breeding pairs and the largest number in the above time series.

The North Shore of Long Island, including Long Island Sound, is part of New York-New Jersey recovery unit, a region with an objective to increase and maintain a population of 575 breeding pairs for five years. The region reached that total for one year in 2007 with 586 pairs, but then their numbers declined again. Resource managers believe that severe storms in 2009 may have destroyed eggs and, as a result, lead to a decline in the population. Currently, North Shore piping plover populations have rebounded from their declines, which started in 2009, to reach a record high (106 breeding pairs) in 2016.

The New York dataset for this indicator includes monitored sites on the North Shore of Long Island (Long Island Sound) and additional sites in Peconic Bay and Shelter Island in the North Fork of Long Island.  Plovers might renest between these locations, but the primary reason LISS maintains a dataset for the entire area is to have a consistent geographic database with its other beach nesting indicator—least terns. Least terns frequently re-nest and might move from a Peconic Bay or Shelter Island beach to a Long Island Sound beach and back in the course of the summer.

New York data from 1990 to 1999 is currently not available.

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A piping plover walks on a beach at the David Weld Sanctuary on Long Island. Photo by George DeCamp.

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