A piping plover walks across the sandy Seawall Beach on May 8, 2021, in Phippsburg. Piping plovers are listed as endangered in Maine. They nest among fragile sand dunes. Credit: Aislinn Sarnacki / BDN

Piping plovers are having another banner year in Maine. More nesting pairs of the endangered shorebirds have been counted on Maine’s shores than in 40 years. That’s despite heavy beach use by humans during the pandemic.

When Maine Audubon first tried to count piping plovers in 1981, the results were concerning – only 10 nesting pairs of the little beachcombers could be found. This spring, volunteers counted 120 of them, marking the first time that more than a hundred pairs have been counted in Maine.

“There are still some birds that are little bit unsettled that may still, yet nest,” Laura Minich-Zitzske, director of Maine Audubon’s coastal birds project, said. She said the birds nest in upper beach areas that are subject to stressful disturbances by humans, and potentially deadly encounters with their dogs.

She credits a robust coalition of state and federal wildlife agencies and a growing network of volunteers who’ve fenced off nesting areas, put up signage and educated the public about the bird’s plight and habitat.

Minich-Zitske said there are occasional instances when dogs or humans wander into protected areas. But she said that while Maine’s beaches have seen heavy human traffic over the past 20 months, many people seem to be paying closer attention to the natural world – and acting to protect it.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.