Why Plovers Nest Where They Do - And Why it Matters to You
For decades, piping plovers have nested with protection on Duxbury Beach. A barrier beach, like Duxbury Beach, provides great habitat for this small shorebird. However, not all parts of the barrier beach are equal in the eyes of plovers - and with an ever-changing environment, plover preferences can also shift.
We’ve seen a couple conspiracy theories out there about why piping plovers nest on certain parts of Duxbury Beach and why restrictions vary. To help explain the differences in nesting and management, we've tried to address two key questions that often come up!
Why does the northern part of the beach have less fencing and plover closures compared to the area south of Blakemans?
Recreational vehicles are not allowed on Duxbury Beach Park or in front of the Resident Parking Lot. There are different rules/restrictions required for areas where OSVs are on the beach. OSV areas require bigger buffers of protected area for plover chicks.
The foraging habitat is different. It is mainly saltmarsh on the bayside of Duxbury Beach Park – this means bayside foraging habitat is not available and may make the area less attractive than other areas of Duxbury Beach. The same is true for the very southern end of the beach.
Nest site fidelity. Plover pairs commonly return to parts of the beach where they nested previously – more pairs have nested south of Duxbury Beach Park in the past and so will continue to do so.
The nesting habitat is different? This is harder to define on a beach that changes so much year to year, but is likely part of the reason nesting occurs to the south.
Predator presence? There are many gulls, crows, fox, coyote, etc. that are attracted to the northern part of the beach where the parking lots and community north of DBR property mean a higher density of trash.
Why was DBR able to try to deter birds at the Duxbury Beach Park Overflow Parking Lot this spring and not the OSV?
Closures on the OSV almost always occur because of where chicks are on the OSV – most importantly how close they are to the Crossovers.
Where nests are is less important because they don’t move and don’t require as large of buffers.
DBR permits only allow “reduced proactive fencing” (deterrence measures) on a small percentage of the nesting habitat at the beach. And it only applies to pre-nesting activity!
We wouldn’t be able to deter a pair from laying eggs over a large enough area necessary to keep them far enough away from a Crossover to prevent it from closing once the chicks hatch.
Basically, a deterrent would be a waste of the permit and resources because it would not keep anything open longer on the OSV. It would likely prolong the nesting season and it could cause the beach to close if we run out of allowances for the permit DBR works under.
If a pair attempted to nest in one of the other parking lots on the beach, we could choose to use the permit to try to deter nesting to keep the parking lot open. Luckily this hasn’t happened! Note: this refers to nests, not chicks!
One important thing to remember is that protection put in place for Piping Plovers and Least Terns, like the signs and fencing, can serve a dual purpose by protecting the dunes. On Duxbury Beach nesting areas also coincide with some of the more vulnerable parts of the beach. For example, the beach north of High Pines to the Powder Point Bridge suffers from severe bayside erosion due to the channel and increased wave and wind energy hitting the oceanside. There isn't extensive saltmarsh behind it to help widen and protect the barrier - making it attractive to plovers but also vulnerable to overwash during winter storms.
Although it can be frustrating for recreationalists during part of the summer, plovers do their part to give back by requiring the preservation of the dunes and vegetation. The dunes protects the bays and communities behind the beach through winter storms - and keep the beach around to enjoy.
DBR continues to work to balance the conservation efforts necessary on Duxbury Beach with the desires of recreationalists. Thank you for doing your part to protect the structure of the barrier beach and natural ecology by respecting rules in place for nesting birds.