The petite piping plovers will begin nesting and preparing to rear chicks along Maine’s sand beaches soon.
Piping plovers, an endangered species in Maine, start their nesting rituals in April and the fuzzy chicks typically begin hatching in May.
The plover eggs, which are laid directly on sand, are typically speckled and sand-colored, making them hard to discern among the dunes, according to the Maine Audubon. Piping plover eggs are very vulnerable because of their coloration, and some of their nesting areas in southern Maine are marked, but not all.
Beachgoers are warned to be on the lookout for the birds as they may nest outside of marked areas, and to avoid disturbing their nesting areas. Plovers are very protective of their nests, and will leave the eggs alone to try to fend off predators, making it easier for the eggs to be crushed underfoot or be disturbed by wandering pets or the elements.
Due to human actions, such as marked nesting sites and support from the Maine Audubon, the population of piping plovers has greatly increased since 1981, when only 10 pairs of nesting plovers were counted. In 2021, volunteers counted 120 pairs of nesting plovers, marking the first time that more than 100 pairs were counted along Maine’s beaches.
To help preserve the plover population, there are some simple actions that beachgoers can take to be aware of the delicate birds. Most importantly, staying aware of marked nesting areas will help prevent the birds from being disturbed or spooked.
Another way to help prevent the birds from leaving their nests is to avoid flying kites near marked areas, or areas where you may observe nesting pairs. Piping plovers may interpret the kites as predators, and will leave their nests to try to distract the assumed predator, according to the Maine Audubon.
If you see a hole that has been dug in the sand, it is advised to fill in the hole so eggs or newly hatched chicks do not get trapped in them.
Any pets that you take to the beach should be kept on a leash, as dogs or other animals running around can inadvertently disturb the plover nests. It is also advised to “carry in, carry out” trash, as it can attract scavengers or other animals that would pose a threat to plovers.
It is important to keep in mind that once the chicks hatch, they often roam across beaches in search of food. If a chick feels threatened, it will freeze in order to help camouflage itself. Beachgoers may mistake this self-defense mechanism as an indication that the chick is injured or needs help — but picking them up can cause irreversible damage, and is discouraged.
If you spot an adult or chick that appears to be injured, the Maine Audubon can be contacted at 207-245-2353, and the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife can be contacted at 207-657-2345.
Correction: An earlier version of this story contained an incorrect phone number to contact the Maine Audubon.