Imperiled Shorebird Struggles For Recovery

December 20, 1996

Results just released by the U.S. Geological Survey's Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center, indicate that the 1996 International Piping Plover Census, the most extensive endangered species census in North America, accounted for 5,837 breeding plovers scattered primarily across beaches in 20 Great Plains, Great Lakes, and Atlantic states and 9 Canadian provinces. These numbers represent a 7% increase in the Piping Plover population over the last census carried out in 1991. Regionally, the greatest improvement was seen along the Atlantic coast, where the 2,479 birds counted represent a 26.9% increase over the past five years. Great Lakes birds increased their numbers to 44 (a 12.8% increase); however, Piping Plovers in the Northern Great Plains declined by 5.1% to 3,284 adults.

"We think increases on the Atlantic coast are due to intense efforts to mitigate nest predation and human disturbance and maintain natural habitat formation processes," stated Anne Hecht, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Atlantic Piping Plover Recovery Team Leader in Sudbury, Massachusetts. Dr. Susan Haig, Great Lakes/Northern Great Plains Team Leader at the Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center in Corvallis, Oregon, explained "The decline in midcontinent birds stems from massive nest flooding on the Missouri River, a problem that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Army Corps of Engineers struggle to resolve. We are also trying to work on habitat improvement in the tiny prairie potholes in North Dakota and Montana that have potential to contribute so much to Piping Plover success.

The International Winter Census, conducted last January, resulted in discovery of 2,541 Piping Plovers distributed from North Carolina beaches to Jamaica and across the Gulf Coast to the Laguna Madre of Texas and northern Mexico. Most of the birds (1,333) were concentrated along the Texas coast. Along the southern Atlantic coast from North Carolina to Florida, numbers were up substantially from five years ago; however, census efforts along the Gulf coast were often hampered by weather and tide conditions, largely explaining an overall drop of 26% from the numbers of wintering birds seen in 1991. Because of the difficulties encountered last winter, efforts are underway to recount plovers along parts of the Gulf Coast this winter.

Overall, census results suggest this beach-dwelling species remains in precarious status given its low population numbers, sparse distribution, and continued threats to habitat throughout its range. They may face further decline if intense management efforts are not continued and aggressively expanded, especially in the Great Lakes and Northern Great Plains. The International Census, however, was a great success judging by the participation of over 1,100 biologists and volunteers from 8 countries. "We like to think of the Census as a model for international conservation efforts", says Census Coordinator, Dr. Jonathan Plissner of the Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center in Corvallis, Oregon. "We have been able to coordinate the activities of personnel from 11 federal, 16 provincial, 37 state, and 2 tribal agencies, 70 conservation and business organizations, as well as hundreds of unaffiliated volunteers. These birds don't recognize political boundaries, and those concerned about the fate of this species realize that success in one country depends upon their status across borders." Censuses are conducted during January and June every five years to determine progress in conservation efforts for the species. The next international census is scheduled for 2001.

Recovery efforts in breeding areas include directing human traffic around fragile nest scrapes found on pristine beaches, erecting wire fencing around nests to keep out predators, and water level management on large bodies of water such as the Missouri River. Less is understood about problems facing birds in the winter. Current efforts, however, focus on conservation of the vast Piping Plover habitat found in the Laguna Madre regions of Texas and Mexico. In addition to Piping Plovers, this area provides critical habitat for waterfowl, shorebirds, wading birds, and endangered species such as Whooping Cranes, Peregrine Falcons, and various sea turtles.

**An information package is available from Dr. Jonathan Plissner, USGS/FRESC, 3200 SW Jefferson Way, Corvallis, OR 97331; ph./FAX (541)750-7433/(541)758-7761; email .

US Geological Survey

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