PEI·Video

Parks Canada prepares for piping plovers' summer return

Parks Canada has already closed a section of beach called the Cavendish Sandspit to make space for the endangered piping plovers. The shorebird returns to P.E.I. beaches each summer to raise their young.

"They look like little cotton balls running around on these sweet little legs'

Take a stroll on a P.E.I. beach and learn about the endangered piping plover with Parks Canada

CBC News PEI

2 months ago
2:29
The endangered piping plover returns to P.E.I. beaches for the summer months. Join Jennifer Stewart with Parks Canada for a stroll along the beach to learn more about the shorebird and its fragile habitat. 2:29

Parks Canada has already closed a section of beach known as the Cavendish Sandspit to make space for the seasonal return of the endangered piping plover.

The shorebird returns to the beaches of P.E.I. each year for breeding and to raise their young, typically arriving in mid to late April.

The piping plover has been listed as endangered by the Committee on the Status of Wildlife in Canada since 1985.

 "Under the Federal Species of Risk Act, Parks Canada is responsible for the protection and recovery of listed species at risk in its national parks, national marine conservation areas and national historic sites," said Jennifer Stewart, acting manager of external relations with Parks Canada on P.E.I.

"The piping plover is an endangered species which is listed on schedule one of S.A.R.A. and so to that effect Parks Canada has a legal obligation to help protect and recover this species."

Once the plover chicks have hatched, they will begin foraging for food along the beach. (Parks Canada)

The piping plover nest in pairs. The preferred location is wide patches of beach above the high water mark that is covered in shells and rocks.

This is so the birds can use the natural features to camouflage themselves from their predators. They are often on the lookout for foxes, crows and seagulls — freezing in place to blend into the rocky sand.

Once a suitable territory is found, the male bird will dig a shallow scrape in the sand among the rocks and shells for the nest. He will even break up small pieces of shell and line the rim of the nest cup with those during the courtship period.

He will often dig a few and the female will choose which one to use.

The female will then lay the first egg, and then wait two days before laying another.

A clutch of eggs will be incubated for a few weeks, 24 hours a day. (Parks Canada)

It will lay eggs every two days until they have four or five in the clutch.

Then birds will then take turns incubating the eggs 24 hours a day for a few weeks before the eggs all hatch together on the same day.

"It's really amazing because when the piping plover chick hatches, they often weigh three grams — they look like little cotton balls running around on these sweet little legs," Stewart said.

"Then within 20 to 25 days, those chicks have reached adult size and they have feathers and they can sustain flight."

After the young have hatched they will often exhibit behavior called brooding where the chicks congregate underneath one of the parents to huddle for warmth and shelter. (Parks Canada)

The baby birds will then leave the nest and forage for food. They will eat along the water line and in where the seaweed and debris collect at the high tide mark.

They will then forage for food until they are large enough to make the flight to the southern wintering grounds, often by early fall.

During their time on the beaches of P.E.I., parks staff in P.E.I. National Park do what they can to ensure the plovers remain undisturbed.

Jennifer Stewart, acting manager of external relations for Parks Canada on P.E.I, says it's important to give the shorebirds the space they need while on the Island's beaches. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

Dogs are prohibited on all beaches in the P.E.I. National Park to protect all shorebirds and the fragile habitat of the piping plovers from April 1 until Oct. 15.

Once an area of beach has been determined to have a nesting pair of plovers, it could be sectioned off so that people don't disturb the nest and the birds in the area.

They also have a resource conservation team which monitors the beaches to find where the plovers are nesting while in the park areas.

"From year to year, the total number of adult piping plovers in P.E.I. National Park can vary," Stewart said.

"In 2019, we had 13 pairs of piping plover — so 26 adult piping plovers in P.E.I. National Park. Last year, in 2020, we had 10 pairs of piping plovers."

Some sections of beach have already been closed off to the public to allow the plovers some undisturbed areas to raise their young. Other sections will be added if plovers pick different nesting sites. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

Stewart also reminds visitors to park sites to pack out all their waste and stay off the fragile dune habitats.

If someone does spot a plover in the park, Stewart said, they are asked to report it to staff so it can be investigated.

More from CBC P.E.I.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jane Robertson

Video journalist

Jane Robertson is a multi-platform journalist based out of Charlottetown. She has previously worked out of Edmonton, AB, and Iqaluit, NU, in her award-winning career that has spanned more than a decade with CBC. Jane.Robertson@cbc.ca Twitter @CBCJRobertson Instagram @CBCJaneRobertson

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