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Positively plover! Cute seasonal shorebirds make strong comeback in CT, but remain threatened

Litter rests in the sand next to a Piping Plover at Sandy Point Bird Sanctuary in West Haven July 06, 2022. Audubon Bird Conservation Director Corrie Folsom-O’Keefe says human encroachment and habitat loss due to climate change threatens many Connecticut shore birds.
Mark Mirko
/
Connecticut Public
Litter rests in the sand next to a Piping Plover at Sandy Point Bird Sanctuary in West Haven July 06, 2022. Audubon Bird Conservation Director Corrie Folsom-O’Keefe says human encroachment and habitat loss due to climate change threatens many Connecticut shore birds.

This time of year draws more visitors to Connecticut’s shoreline — including nesting birds. State efforts — and policy — help these birds and their young.

Every summer, beachgoers are reminded to “share the shore” with migratory birds such as the piping plovers and least terns, two of the birds with nesting habits that are sensitive to disturbance — so their nesting success over the next few months is crucial. Both are federally and state threatened species.

Through the years, conservation partners and over 100 volunteers have been essential to bolstering that success.

Laura Saucier, a wildlife biologist at the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), said “intense monitoring” of the piping plovers began back in 1986, when there were 20 pairs. Last year, there were 79 pairs, a record high “which for a small state with narrow beaches, and heck of a lot of people, is pretty impressive,” Saucier said.

Saucier said there were 107 plover chicks last year that they know survived to be able to fly.

This year, she said they’re seeing prime nesting sites somewhat at capacity, and pairs are showing up on small private beaches that haven't been seen there before.

With a few months left before the end of nesting season, beachgoers are advised to be cautious: not approach fenced off nesting sites — which could scare adult birds off their nest, leaving their young vulnerable to predators.

Jenny Dickson, director of DEEP’s wildlife division, is hopeful that a 2023 Connecticut law establishing a seabird and shorebird protection program could help efforts even more, by providing “another level of protection that is a little faster to implement” than the Endangered Species Act.

It formalizes the volunteer program, Dickson said, and also allows DEEP to enforce infractions if someone disturbs nesting sites. She hopes it will help these migratory birds even more.

“Without active and continuous management, we probably wouldn't have piping plovers and least terns nesting successfully anywhere in Connecticut,” Dickson said.

As Connecticut Public's state government reporter, Michayla focuses on how policy decisions directly impact the state’s communities and livelihoods. She has been with Connecticut Public since February 2022, and before that was a producer and host for audio news outlets around New York state. When not on deadline, Michayla is probably outside with her rescue dog, Elphie. Thoughts? Jokes? Tips? Email msavitt@ctpublic.org.