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  • Duxbury Beach Reservation

Growing up Plover: Post 2

Updated: Jun 25, 2019

Welcome back! It’s been a week of surprises and challenges on Duxbury Beach. With 25 pairs of plovers we are bound to have a bit of a circus on the beach as nests start to hatch.

Let's start by checking in with our three young plover families out on the beach!

The Early Birds

First nest, first chicks! Four tiny puffballs hatched on 5/25 – today they are 16 days old! They still have a couple of weeks to go until fledging (aka able to fly!) but we are excited to watch them grow. Unfortunately, the road has not been easy. Two of the four chicks from brood 1A were lost during the first few days after hatching, though why is unknown.

The chicks of brood 1 have been crossing the back road periodically, spending most of their time on the bayside. The bayside beach is more sheltered, and the tidal flats typically offer a better plover buffet for the chicks to chow down. We are hopeful that the two remaining chicks will continue to grow and become our first fledglings of the season!

The chicks spend a lot of their time foraging for small invertebrates in the wrack line and intertidal.

Mom and Dad stay close to keep the chicks safe!

The chicks definitely aren't ready for flight yet but over the next few weeks we'll start to see them practice and eventually take off!

Sometimes you just need to tell the neighbors to back off!

Replicated Habitats

Being a young plover chick is not easy. There are a lot of threats – predators, bad weather, human disturbance and more. It’s usually tough to know why plover chicks don’t survive since they don’t stay put! Monitors collect extensive data on any signs of loss in addition to chick behaviors and locations throughout the day in hopes of protecting chicks and when necessary, determining cause of loss.

This past week was a rough one for parents and chicks at brood 5. Usually plover parents lay four eggs per nest and we hope that they will all hatch. Unfortunately, only two of the eggs from nest 5 hatched. The plover parents kept incubating the unhatched eggs for over a day while their two newly hatched chicks ran around in the replicated habitat.

Eventually the parents had to leave the two eggs and move with the chicks down to the bayside beach to start foraging. A few days later one of the chicks disappeared, again for reasons unknown. We were excited to see the last remaining chick continue to forage and move up and down the beach. It seemed to prefer napping in the replicated habitat next-door to where the nest was. From the tracks in that area, it looked like there were 100 chicks rather than just one – they certainly run around a lot!

Over the weekend a monitor noticed the plover parents become very upset. The reason why became clear when he saw a common grackle predate the last chick from brood 5. It is easy to become attached to these adorable puff balls, but the sad truth is that many of the plover chicks do not survive. We aim for 1.25 chicks to survive per pair over all for the beach. Even this is oftentimes difficult. 1.25 is the number set in MA to sustain the population. The parent of nest 5 may attempt another nest this season, it is still early enough, and we will check back in with them next week.

One of the chicks from brood 5 pops out from underneath Mom or Dad. Probably to return to foraging after a break to be brooded!

Pinky & Family

Pinky is the nickname for the banded male piping plover with pink band #34. It is fun to watch him return to Duxbury Beach for the second year in a row. We don’t know if his mate is the same bird this year, but we do know that he has a favorite spot on the beach! Over 2018 and 2019, Pinky and his partner have laid four nests – all within the same 100 ft stretch of beach. We’ve seen some other similarities as well – both years he lost his first nest attempt of the season to tidal overwash. Perhaps he needs to move up the beach next year?

Last summer Pinky and his partner also lost their second nest when it was predated by a fox. This season their second nest is still going strong and we are hopeful it will hatch in the next couple of weeks!

Check out Pinky's band! While many of the piping plovers are banded in the Great Lakes, there are many fewer banded birds on the Atlantic Coast. It is exciting to have one on Duxbury Beach!

Why did the Plover Cross the Road?

It is quite common for the piping plovers of Duxbury Beach to cross the back road from oceanside to bayside and back again to forage, find refuge at high tides, avoid potential threats, etc. These tenacious chicks and their parents are extremely vulnerable while they are in the roadway and so DBR implements a specific protocol to let them cross safely and remain in compliance with endangered species laws. This means closing the back road for periods of times while the chicks make their way across. That 30 ft of gravel can be daunting when you are only a couple inches tall and sometimes the parents have trouble ushering all their chicks across in a timely manner.

It is so important that everyone out on the beach – Gurnet-Saquish resident and visitors, beachgoers to the town-leased property, and those headed to Blakeman’s – respect the protocols the town monitors must follow. If we all sit back and enjoy the view for a few extra minutes the staff of the Endangered Species Program can do their jobs and keep the chicks safe. While the laws governing piping plover protection can seem frustrating, it is important to remember the amazing conservation success story that is the piping plover – and we are all part of it! Thank you all for your help!

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