Photo by Brian C. Jones

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM), and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) need your help this summer to protect federally threatened piping plovers, as well as least terns and American oystercatchers, as they nest and raise chicks on Rhode Island’s beaches. Piping plovers, which are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, return to Rhode Island in March and April, when they establish territories and begin to lay eggs. Disturbance from pedestrians, pets, or vehicles can cause the birds to abandon nesting sites or can cause nest failure if adults are prevented from sitting on eggs.  To keep the birds safe, USFWS and TNC, in cooperation with RIDEM, rope off nesting areas on Rhode Island beaches.

Nesting season is well underway for shorebirds and terns in Rhode Island. When birds arrived and began to set up territories this spring, there may have been less foot traffic and human use on some beaches, which could have resulted in birds nesting in some previously unused places. As some beaches around the state are reopening or preparing to reopen this year, returning beachgoers may see shorebirds and terns in some new or irregular areas. RIDEM, USFWS, and TNC urge  beachgoers to share the shore with nesting birds by being considerate of protected nesting areas

At Misquamicut State Beach, in Westerly, RI, a piping plover nest has been discovered for the first time since monitoring began in the 1980s. This is the busiest state beach in Rhode Island, seeing over 300,000 visitors per year, so the public’s help will be needed to ensure that the pair of plovers that has chosen this spot has the room to raise their chicks with minimal disturbance. Piping plover chicks are not fed by their parents, and must be able to reach the wrack line to forage for invertebrates themselves. Visitors may notice a small protected area on the beach this summer when chicks hatch, and some additional signage in place. We hope that visitors to this popular beach will get the chance to view the piping plover family from a safe distance. As long as we keep our distance, people can share the beach with wildlife while enjoying most recreational activities and still making space for shorebirds and terns to rest, feed, and raise families.

Since being listed in 1986, piping plover numbers in the RI have increased from 10 pairs to 80 pairs in 2019. Though piping plovers in New England have made strides toward recovery and are increasing, they are still considered rare. With so few pairs in the state, each one makes a difference. The success of piping plovers in RI since listing has been due to decades of effort and partnerships between RIDEM, USFWS, TNC, volunteers, landowners, municipal governments, and Rhode Islanders to conserve and protect this species.

What the public can do to help piping plovers and other beach-nesting birds:

  • Respect areas posted or signed for the protection of wildlife and keep your distance if you encounter shorebirds and terns outside protected areas
  • Follow dog regulations at each beach. Dogs are not permitted at state beaches, USFWS beaches, or at TNC’s Goosewing Beach Preserve in Little Compton from April-September. If you are on a private beach where dogs are permitted, dogs must be leashed.
  • Don’t leave or bury trash or food scraps on beaches. Garbage attracts predators which may prey upon piping plover eggs or chicks.
  • Please fill sand castle moats and other holes in the sand. These may trap chicks that are not yet capable of flying.

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