Piping plovers numbers down 14%

Early results of a piping plover census in Atlantic Canada indicate the numbers of these endangered birds continue to drop.
Parks Canada has been working to protect the piping plover for years. (CBC)

Early numbers from a piping plover count in Atlantic Canada indicate the numbers of these endangered birds continue to drop.

A preliminary count in 2011 indicates a 14 per cent drop from two decades ago, with half of that decline happening just in the last year.

Environment Canada set a short-term recovery goal of 510 plovers for 2011. The current census has counted just 427.

Piping plovers in P.E.I. National Park did not have a successful breeding year. At least a dozen birds returned to North Shore beaches in April, but only eight bred successfully, Linda Thomas, a research conservation technician with Parks Canada, told CBC News on Wednesday.

"Normally, when we get birds back they settle down very quickly and move right into the nesting period, and that didn't happen this year," Thomas said.

Predators and the weather destroyed some eggs, but "there are all kinds of reasons and I think probably no one in particular."

Seven chicks hatched and were witnessed taking short flights. Thomas said one plover pair tried three or four times to hatch eggs but kept failing.

"They laid one egg and it was flooded. They laid another egg in another nest and that was predated. And a third nest attempt they had four eggs and started to incubate and that was predated."

Thomas said crows or foxes probably got the eggs, but she doesn't know for sure. Parks Canada is running a special project monitoring plover nests with cameras, but this nest wasn't far enough along to be one of them.

Information from the cameras will help develop new ways to protect the nests.

Egg rescue

A special project for collecting abandoned piping plover eggs at national parks found no eggs to rescue on P.E.I. this year, but in Kouchibouguac in New Brunswick, some were found unattended for 48 hours.

Last year, four eggs were taken to the Moncton zoo. Two chicks from those eggs were eventually reintroduced, and one was known to have survived and migrated. It was banded, but it hasn't been spotted this year.

"He didn't come back to our beaches, but that's not unusual for piping plover," said Thomas.

"Young of the year don't usually return to their natal beaches. They'll nest somewhere nearby, but not necessarily where they were fledged from. So, we didn't see him and there were no reports of this particular banded bird from the region, so it's hard to say."

Five chicks from the Kouchibouguac eggs will be introduced into the wild this year.