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article imageCan the Eastern Canada Piping Plover population avoid extinction?

By Igor I. Solar     Dec 7, 2011 in Environment
Predation by other birds and mammals and disturbance by humans in their nesting grounds brought the Piping Plover into the list of endangered bird species in Canada and the US; can protective actions help the recovery of this species’ population?
The Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus melodus) is a small, ground-nesting shorebird with a wide range of distribution in North America extending mostly along the Atlantic coast from the Gulf of Mexico to Newfoundland and Labrador. Important nesting sites for this bird in the Maritime Provinces of Canada are coastal beaches and gently sloped, sparsely vegetated dunes in the southern sections of Nova Scotia and along the northern coast of Prince Edward Island, in the PEI National Park extending from Cavendish to Dalvay Beach.
Based on records since the early 1900s, the species’ abundance has been in the low ten thousands.
Canadian distribution and nesting areas of the Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus melodus).
Canadian distribution and nesting areas of the Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus melodus).
Canadian Wildlife Service, 2004
For aquatic birds this is a very low count, particularly comparing with Canada geese, which current abundance is estimated at about 7 million birds.
The population of Piping Plovers decreased steadily during the second half of the 19th century. In 1978, the species was listed as “Threatened” in Canada and in 1985 its status was changed to “Endangered”. Current estimates indicate that there may be no more than 4000 birds visiting the beaches of Eastern Canada. Despite protective measures to prevent predation and disturbance to the birds by placing wire-mesh fences and closing popular beach areas, the sightings of breeding pairs in Eastern Canada for the period 1991-2006 have remained low, at about 500 nests.
Adult piping plover at Sauble Beach  Lake Huron  Ontario  Canada. Bands in the right foot identify t...
Adult piping plover at Sauble Beach, Lake Huron, Ontario, Canada. Bands in the right foot identify the bird for migration and census studies.
MDF
In 2006, several environmental organizations took the Canadian Department of the Environment to court over the failure to implement the Species at Risk Act (SARA) by refusing to identify “critical habitats” in the recovery strategy of the species. “Critical habitat” means: “the habitat that is necessary for the survival or recovery of a listed wildlife species and that is identified as the species’ critical habitat in the recovery strategy or in an action plan for the species.”
Sandy beach and grassy dunes at Prince Edward Island National Park. This is typical nesting habitat ...
Sandy beach and grassy dunes at Prince Edward Island National Park. This is typical nesting habitat for the Piping Plover, and endagered marine bird of Eastern Canada and the Atlantic coast of the US.
The Piping Plover breeding behaviour exposes them to multiple threats. Among the reasons identified as threats to the survival of the species are habitat loss and degradation caused by pollution, coastal development, increase in tourism, beach access of personal automobiles and machinery to nesting areas in the dunes, increases in disturbance by humans, predation by feral dogs and cats and other wildlife including gulls, crows, raccoons and red foxes.
Sign at Cavendish Beach  PEI National Park  indicating nesting area of the Piping Plover. The sign r...
Sign at Cavendish Beach, PEI National Park, indicating nesting area of the Piping Plover. The sign reads: "“This is a breeding area for an endangered species, the Piping Plover. Disturbance by humans and their pets reduces the birds’ chances for survival. It may cause parents to abandon eggs, chicks or interrupt feeding behavior at critical times.”
I. Santry
Since 1993, Environment Canada in coordination with Parks Canada has implemented numerous programs aimed to the protection of the Piping Plover. One such program takes place at PEI National Park. Reproductive success is being monitored, beach sections are closed to visitors, fences to protect nesting areas are installed and guardians patrol nesting beaches to share information with visitors about the plover and encourage people to avoid nesting sites.
In the most recent listing issued in October 2011 by COSEWIC (Committee for the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada) the Piping Plover is once again, since 2001, listed as Endangered. This assessment means the species is facing imminent extirpation or extinction.
Piping plover chick at Sauble Beach  Lake Huron  Ontario  Canada. Bands in the right foot identify t...
Piping plover chick at Sauble Beach, Lake Huron, Ontario, Canada. Bands in the right foot identify the bird for migration and census studies.
MDF
The recovery of the Piping Plover is a complex issue and requires the implementation of a long term plan. Nonetheless, Environment Canada considers the prospects of success as “feasible”. Still, the recovery of the Eastern Canada population of this fragile bird species will depend on the development of new protective strategies, possibly including captive breeding and rearing, and sustained efforts to convince human beach users that we must share the coastal areas with animal species that depend on them for their survival.
More about Endangered species, species at risk act, Eastern Canada, Atlantic coast, Maritime Provinces
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