Searching for lost P.E.I. plovers in the Caribbean
Piping plover banding project reveals more about endangered birds' migration, survival
A piping plover banding project that began in 2013 is uncovering important new information about the tiny endangered shorebirds — including where they're stopping in southern locales.
More than 450 adults and chicks — 56 on P.E.I. — have been banded in the Atlantic provinces and Quebec's Magdalen Islands in the last four years.
If any Islanders are planning a Caribbean vacation and are interested in helping to report piping plovers, they should be bringing their binoculars.— Becky Whittam
"We are uniquely tagging piping plovers with these filed-readable bands, so people on beaches can actually read the bands with binoculars or with spotting scopes or with a digital camera," said Becky Whittam, the head of the Terrestrial and Marine Unit for the Canadian Wildlife Service in the Atlantic region in Sackville, N.B.
About half of these banded birds have been spotted in the Caribbean during the winter, especially in the Bahamas, and some have returned to the Maritimes to breed again, she said.
"It's only with this type of banding study that we can make these connections," she said.
Four Island chicks spotted
Four chicks banded this summer in North Rustico have already been spotted in the Caribbean, including Bermuda.
The number of sightings is much higher than any other non-game bird banding study, Whittam said, noting "if you band a sparrow, it's very, very unlikely that you're ever going to see that sparrow again."
There are a couple of reasons for the high number of sightings, Whittam said. Plovers usually gather at beaches that are used by people, and many people in North America and the Caribbean are interested in preserving the species and are aware it's important to report sightings of banded birds.
The study relies on sightings from federal and state agencies in areas where the plovers winter — sometimes even receiving photos from birders on vacation in the Caribbean.
For instance, Andrew Dobson of Bermuda's Audubon Society spotted an Island-banded plover Sept. 10, snapped photos and submitted them.
Bring your binoculars
"If any Islanders are planning a Caribbean vacation and are interested in helping to report piping plovers, they should be bringing their binoculars," Whittam said.
The Maritime population of plovers has declined 26 per cent from 2009 to 2013, Whittam noted.
The banding project will wrap up next year, and Whittam hopes to gather reports on sightings for another two years before completing a study on the birds' migration and survival.
There are believed to be only about 7,000 piping plovers in existence.
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