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Next Couple of Weeks Crucial for Nesting Piping Plovers

Kelly Colgan Azar / flickr

With the Fourth of July just a couple of days way and fledgling “baby” birds seemingly everywhere, there are some not-so-subtle changes going on in the natural world. Most noticeable in fields and woods is the rapid and pronounced decrease in bird song. Recovering from the exhausting ordeal of defending a territory, courting, mating, providing for a brood of young birds all the while on the alert for a wide variety of predators, the adult birds are eating, resting and growing new feathers. There is no longer any imperative need to sing, so most birds just let loose a few songs at dawn and dusk, or whenever the urge strikes them. Perhaps now they sing for “fun” instead of because they have to.

The beaches currently have nesting birds on them. American Oystercatchers, Piping Plovers and Least Terns are widespread in small numbers on open stretches of beach. These birds have young now and are busy protecting, defending, and, in the case of the oystercatchers and terns, feeding their young.

Piping plover chicks hatch and are completely precocial. This means that they are up and running about, finding their own food, from the moment they peck their way out of the egg. The adults never feed them. By way of comparison, young songbirds are born naked and helpless, totally dependent on the adults and the protection and security of the nest. They must be fed and sheltered in order to survive.

The entire continent is sweltering. The natural feature that makes the Cape and Islands so attractive during the hot summer are the beaches that encircle it, attracting people like metal to a magnet. It also puts large numbers of humans in direct contact with nesting Piping Plovers and Least Terns. Humans have the advantage, most being able to read, so if an area is posted with a nesting birds sign, take it to heart. Give the birds a break and stay out of where they are resting and feeding their young.

They nest on the open sand and their survival is tied to what happens in the next couple of weeks. With the ferocious heat, the beach sand becomes like an oven and baby birds will seek shelter under whatever cover exists, in the form of beach grass or other vegetation. Disturbance by careless, inattentive or reckless trespassing humans, causes them to run away, often with disastrous (as in fatal) results. If a favorite beach area has signs proclaiming it a nesting area, just move off a short way. If you notice birds giving alarm calls or agitated at your presence, then you are too close to unseen young and you should move a bit further away.

It is a hard time of year for dogs and not just because of the heat. As much as they love going to the beach and in the water, they cause a real hazard and danger for nesting birds. Instinctively reacting to the four-legged predator they go into a frenzy, adults and chicks. In this all-too-familiar scenario, bad things happen to baby birds. It does not matter if the dog is old and has no designs or interest in the birds as the birds react instinctively to it. Should the dog be younger and playful, the entire nesting season will be lost, an entire generation of birds wiped out. It is very important to keep the dog off the beach for another few weeks.