Coastal Ecology Program
Duxbury Beach Piping Plover Guide
Duxbury Beach is owned by the Duxbury Beach Reservation, Inc., a Massachusetts charitable corporation. The Reservation’s mission is to preserve Duxbury Beach to safeguard the adjacent bays and mainland, protect wildlife and vegetation, and provide recreational opportunities for all.
In 1986, Piping Plovers (Charadrius melodus) were listed as a threatened species under both the U.S. Endangered Species Act and the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act. Since 1991 Piping Plovers have nested on Duxbury Beach. Though the nesting population of Piping Plovers has continued to grow in Massachusetts and over two dozen pairs annually on Duxbury Beach, the Atlantic Coast population of Plovers as-a-whole is still in crisis.
In order to allow vehicles to travel on the beach roadway, use parking lots, and have over-sand vehicle (ORV) access on the beach, Duxbury Beach Reservation, the owner of Duxbury Beach, successfully obtained a permit for increased management flexibility from MassWildlife under its Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP). Among other provisions, this Plan allows vehicles to travel in the vicinity of unfledged (non-flying) piping plover chicks on Duxbury Beach, but only under specified rules and conditions designed to protect the birds.
Photos by Stewart Ting Chong
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Duxbury Police Department.
Every March, field staff begin monitoring Duxbury Beach to figure out where piping plover pairs are settling in.
Piping plover are very hard to see! They blend in perfectly with sand and cobble on the beach. Always watch your feet while passing through an area where chicks are. Chick areas are marked with perpendicular fencing and signs. Please walk by the water line and never chase after birds!
Plover parents will usually land in the road before the chicks cross. If you see a plover in the road you should immediately stop your car and either wait for the bird to leave the road or if you see chicks start to cross, wait in your car until they have moved off the road. Exiting your car and disturbing the birds is prohibited and is likely to prolong the crossing.
Sometime in May piping plover nests will begin hatching and tiny chicks will be running around the beach with their parents. There are 1-4 chicks in each brood and 1-2 parents. If you see a plover parent, look carefully for the tiny chicks nearby.
If you see someone in the roadway with their hand raised or a stop sign in the air, stop your vehicle immediately. A piping plover family is crossing the road. Crossings can vary from 1 minute to 2 hours. Please be patient and respectful of staff. It is very important that monitors watch the chicks so they can confirm that each one has safely reached the other side of the road.
Wait until birds are completely off the road before passing by - they can change direction quickly! If a chick is on the shoulder of the road, stop your car.
Piping plover chicks are VERY difficult to see on the road. Drive slowly, have you headlights on at night, and stop as soon as you see a plover in the road. Don't assume you know how many chicks there are. They don't always stay together and may crouch or freeze in the road.
Least tern also nest on Duxbury Beach and are protected by the MA Endangered Species Act. Least terns sometimes nest very close to the waterline. Please stay out of fenced areas and walk at the waterline when passing by a tern colony.
Least tern chicks spend a lot of their time laying in the sand - in the wrackline, at the base of vegetation, or anywhere they find to stay protected from the weather and predators. Like plover chicks, they blend in perfectly with the sand and cobble. Walk at the waterline to give chicks space and watch your feet.
Tern parents have to bring back food for their chicks. Let them do their job! Never chase birds you see on the beach, walk at the waterline past tern colonies, and never enter the fencing.