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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Piping Plovers Nest on Cape Cod Beaches

 People are attracted to Cape Cod for many reasons. Most of the guests who stay at our Sandwich bed and breakfast come for the tranquil beauty, pristine beaches, and regional seafood. We have also had many “birders” over the years. They come in the spring, summer, fall, and winter. They arrive with binocular, cameras, notebooks, field bags, and field guides in hand in search of species rare and some not so rare.

One of the most well-known of the migrants to Cape Cod is the piping plover. These small birds return each spring from their winter hiatus in the south to nest and lay their eggs in the sand along Cape Cod’s beaches. This year, these endangered birds, as well as many other species, have migrated earlier than they normally do, possibly due to the unusually warm winter both here and in the southern United States.

A concern of the piping plover early migration this spring is our recent cold snap and whether it will have an impact on their mating and nesting. These small birds make their nests in the sand by scratching shallow depressions and surrounding them with bits of shells and rocks. This makes them extremely vulnerable, not only to the elements but to predators and to beach-goers alike. Most of the areas where the plovers nest are marked off by the wildlife service to protect the eggs and the young birds. It takes the eggs in the nests about 28 days to hatch and then it is another 30 days or so before the young plovers can fly.

Piping plovers were brought back from near extinction to its peak in the 1940’s but the population began to decline again due to recreational use of beaches and the increase in residential and commercial development. The Endangered Species Act passed in January of 1986 placed them on the endangered list. The US Fish and Wildlife service on Cape Cod has played a major role in the protection of the piping plover population.

Whether you live on the Cape or are just vacationing here, we all want to go to the beach to walk, swim, play, and enjoy the warm, sunny days. Visitors to Cape Cod beaches can help by being mindful of and respecting roped off or fenced areas that are to protect the plover’s nesting grounds and hatchlings. This also means keeping off-road vehicles and pets out of the area. This doesn’t seem too much to ask to ensure that an endangered species continues to thrive.

Jan Preus, the Innkeeper, chef, and artist in residence at the 1750 Inn at Sandwich Center, Sandwich, Cape Cod, Massachusetts

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