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'It's not going to be a great year' : Conservationists ask beachgoers to keep their distance from piping plovers

There are less than 50 piping plover breeding pairs in the province and Sue Abbott said, due to stormy weather, some got a late start to their nesting season
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A sign warns beachgoers to stay away from piping plover nests (Meghan Groff/HalifaxToday.ca)

Conservationists are asking Nova Scotians to share the beach with small, migratory shorebirds.

There are less than 50 piping plover breeding pairs in the province and Sue Abbott said some got a late start to their nesting season.

"We had some pretty stormy weather in June and that was a problem for a few pairs," explained the coordinator for the Piping Plover Conservation Program. "Thankfully they can re-nest, but it has meant that they're a little bit later this season than normal."

Abbott said the chicks are difficult to see. She's asking beachgoers to pay attention to signs warning of nesting grounds and to stick to the wet sand when going for a walk.

According to Bird Studies Canada, females lay four eggs directly on the open sand between grassy dunes and the high-tide mark.

"It takes them a whole four weeks before babies can fly," Abbott told NEWS 95.7's The Rick Howe Show. "So that whole period they're flightless and they're really vulnerable to foot traffic, walking too close and dogs running off leash."

Piping plovers are an endangered species and she fears it won't be a good year for chicks. 

Abbot said in the 1970s, there were about 70 breeding pairs in the province, but due to habitat loss, predators and weather, that number has dwindled. Her organization is working towards building up the population to 60.

The South Shore is home to about two-thirds of the current breeding pairs.

"This year there were sightings at Summerville, but there were no nests that we knew about," said Abbot. "White Point did have a pair there, but unfortunately their nest did not hatch in the end."

There has been some success at beaches in Shelburne County. There's also good news in Cape Breton. Piping plover nests hadn't been seen Dominion Beach Provincial Park since the early 1990s, but a breeding pair returned this year.

"There was a wonderful woman that was walking the beach. She found the pair, figured out they were nesting and the nest hatched."

Abbot said the deadline for laying eggs is generally around Canada Day because both parents have to incubate the eggs for around 28 days, then give themselves enough time to migrate south for the winter.

Environment and Climate Change Canada is currently tracking where they head when the weather gets colder.

"We know that a lot of them are going down to the Caribbean ... but a number of them that breed in Nova Scotia have been found in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas as well."

Unlike some baby birds, plover chicks feed themselves and can sometimes be seen with other shorebirds foraging on the beach.

Because piping plovers are cute and rare, it's a thrilling site to see, but Abbott asks beachgoers to keep their distance.

"We want people to be excited, but remember to give them that space and to let the families have that space to raise their young.



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Meghan Groff

About the Author: Meghan Groff

Born in Michigan, raised in Ontario, schooled in Indiana and lives in Nova Scotia; Meghan is the editor for CityNews Halifax.
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