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(DUXBURY, MASSACHUSETTS) Residents of the South Shore know that with the arrival of warmer weather, not only do sightseers flock to Massachusetts beaches, but the federally protected Piping Plover also returns. This means that certain parts of the local beaches are closed until the nesting season for the small, sand-colored shorebirds has ended.
Locals Are Worried
Powder Point Bridge, once named the longest wooden bridge in America, connects the town of Duxbury to the 7.5-mile barrier beach that piping plover use annually for nesting. The bridge has recently been closed due to construction and maintenance. The extended closure of the Powder Point Bridge has left some locals wondering if it will affect the number of birds nesting in the area. This could potentially create a larger area that will be impacted by the birds and may need to be closed off.
In a recent Facebook post, one commenter wrote, "The more activity on the beach now through Spring the better to deter nesting." Another commenter responded in agreement, stating, "I don't think enough is being done to help the residents and beachgoers. The bridge was closed for over a month before they even started work on the bridge. The plovers will take over the ENTIRE beach this year.”
Why Are Piping Plovers Protected?
The piping plover is a small, sandy-colored bird that inhabits coastal beaches from Newfoundland to North Carolina. It has distinct physical features, such as yellow-orange legs, a black band across its forehead, and a black ring around its neck. Despite its unique characteristics, it can be difficult to spot as it blends into the sandy habitat.
Unfortunately, these birds have been declining in numbers due to increased development, recreational use of beaches, and hunting in the past. Because of this, the piping plover became listed as "Threatened" by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under provisions of the U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973. In 1992, there were an estimated 790 pairs of piping plovers. In 1992, there were an estimated 213 pairs of piping plovers nested on Massachusetts beaches.
Due to regulations enforced over the past three decades, the small shorebird has begun making a comeback in population sizes but still hasn't completely recovered. In 2021, there was an estimated 948 pairs of piping plovers nesting in Massachusetts, with a total estimated population of Atlantic piping plovers at less than 1800 pairs.
The increase in the number of piping plovers' numbers has caused locals to wonder why they are still treated as "Threatened". During a public community forum in October of 2022, Carolyn Mostello of the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife explained, stating:
"Whatever the federal designation is, in Massachusetts, we’re required to have the same or a more imperil designation. So, we can’t list the species at anything less than threatened because federally, it’s listed as threatened.”
Will the Powder Point Bridge Closure Cause More Plovers to Nest?
Piping plovers return to their breeding grounds in late March or early April, which coincides with the closure of the Powder Point Bridge. It is impossible to predict the future, but with fewer people walking on the beach during the day, there may be an increase in the number of nests or their locations. Locals and bird behaviorists alike will be eagerly watching to see what impact reduced foot traffic on the beach will have on the sandbirds' nesting habits.
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