Ecosystem Targets and Supporting Indicators
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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.
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.
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 the 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 has helped protect plover populations.
The objective of the 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 the 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 88 breeding pairs observed in 2018, although a slight decrease since 2016, is consistent with the historical average.