Endangered P.E.I. plovers saved by pizza pan

A plover nest was saved from being washed out when Parks Canada staff used a pizza pan to scoop the area of sand further up on the beach.

Parks Canada used pizza pan as last resort to scoop out nest and re-locate it

Kerry-Lynn Atkinson consulted with bird and wildlife experts and had to get special permits to move the nest. (Submitted by Parks Canada)

A pair of endangered piping plovers can thank Parks Canada and a pizza pan for saving their family.

The birds had picked a bad spot for their nest in the sand — right on the tide line — in P.E.I.'s National Park.

"As the tides were rising, we were noticing that they were getting closer and closer to the eggs," explained Kerry-Lynn Atkinson, resource management officer with Parks Canada.

How a pizza pan saved a family of endangered birds

5 years ago
Duration 0:40
How a pizza pan saved a family of endangered birds

One day water even washed over the nest.

Parks staff decided the only hope for the nest was to move it a metre up, away from the water. 

"We employed a different methodology than we've ever used in the park," said Atkinson,. "It included my pizza pan from home."

"It just seemed to be the exact shape and size that we needed," said Atkinson.

Experts consulted before move

Atkinson consulted with bird and wildlife experts and had to get special permits to do the move. 

"It was scary enough making the decision to actually move it, it's a species at risk, these decisions are not made lightly. Many, many specialists are involved in being able to do something like this," she said.

This pizza pan used to relocate the plover nest. (Laura Meader/CBC )

Atkinson said that many plovers will mark around the edge of their nests, and she used the pizza pan to make sure all the sediment around the nest was gathered up.

"We devised a plan with the pizza pan and we practiced and we practiced," she said.

When it came time to move the real nest, the adult birds watched on.

"We wanted to have the adults right there nearby when we did make the move, because we wanted the adults to see what we were doing," said Atkinson.

'It worked, it worked!'

It took about five minutes — staff acted quickly to ease the stress on the birds.

One staff member kept the eggs safe in a container while Atkinson dug in with the pan. 

"I was shaking when we were doing it," said Atkinson.

They placed the nest about a metre up — in a shallow hole they had prepared. 

The adult birds accepted the new location and were back on the eggs about three minutes later. 

Wet sand shows area where nest was being washed out in Covehead. (Parks Canada)

"We were so excited to see that adult come back to the nest and sit down and begin incubating right away," said Atkinson.

"We were high fiving each other on the beach, we were so excited, it worked, it worked!" She recalled. 

All 3 chicks fledged

The eggs successfully hatched around the end of July and by mid-August the birds were officially fledglings, with enough feathers to fly. 

"We fledged all three chicks, so pretty exciting," she said.

Atkinson now keeps the pizza pan in her office. 

"It was rare, it was different for the park and thank goodness it worked out well."

One of the adult birds with the last of three chicks which hatched from the nest. (Parks Canada)

Every plover matters

Plover numbers in P.E.I are at the lowest point they've been since a census of the birds began in 1991. 

Birds are counted every year at the beginning of the season in June. 

Only 48 birds were counted by Parks Canada and the Island Nature Trust.

The average number is about 60. 

"This is our lowest population numbers on Prince Edward Island," said Atkinson.

However, she said chick numbers have been good. 

"It's sad when you see the adult numbers aren't that great, but then when you are able to produce fledglings and you're excited about the numbers that you've had, it always gives you hope," said Atkinson.


Laura Meader is a video journalist for CBC P.E.I.