A Productive Piping Plover Season at Assateague Island National Seashore

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Date: October 1, 2014
Contact: Liz Davis, 410-629-6087

An estimated 38 pairs of piping plovers, Charadrius melodus, nested along the Maryland portion of Assateague Island National Seashore during 2014 and fledged 59 chicks. The resulting productivity numbers, 1.6 chicks fledged per pair, are the highest since 2004. Several factors may be attributed to the success of this year’s number of fledged chicks, including mild summer weather and effective management.

Since monitoring began in 1986, the piping plover breeding population has fluctuated between 14 and 66 pairs, while productivity has fluctuated between 0.4 and 2.4 chicks fledged per breeding pair. In the last five years, the breeding population averaged around 42 pairs, with an average productivity of 1.1 chicks fledged per breeding pair.

There are two distinct breeding areas within the Maryland portion of Assateague Island. The northern six miles of the island supports 90% of the piping plover breeding population, while the twelve mile stretch of beach known as the Over Sand Vehicle (OSV) zone supports 10%. This year, the four pairs in the OSV zone fledged twelve chicks, for a productivity of 3.0 chicks fledged per breeding pair. This year’s productivity within the OSV zone ties with that of 2011 and is the fourth year in a row that productivity has been at or above 2.0 chicks fledged per breeding pair in this area.

“While nature definitely plays a part in the survivorship of the plover chicks, we also believe that minimal disturbance is a factor in our productivity,” says Tami Pearl, lead Biological Science Technician with the Piping Plover Monitoring Program. “Our hope is that the birds arrive early, set up their nests, and have their chicks fledged before July 4th each year, before the more intense summer weather arrives,” she adds. To this end, the park delineates interior portions of Assateague Island closed to the public as soon as a pair is seen in courtship, which can happen as early as late March. Full beach closures are only implemented when it becomes absolutely necessary to protect the unfledged chicks as they forage along the ocean beach.

Assateague Island continues to be the sole breeding location in Maryland for the piping plover, a
species threatened with extinction and protected by the Endangered Species Act. Piping plovers
are attracted to the island’s undeveloped beaches, which provide habitat for both nesting and
feeding. A major challenge for the National Park Service is to protect the piping plover and other
natural resources while providing high-quality recreational opportunities for the park’s many
summer visitors. The NPS expects that actions to safeguard sensitive species like the piping
plover may affect some aspects of public use but, with a little patience and flexibility, visitors will
always have a rewarding experience with all that Assateague Island has to offer.

About Assateague Island National Seashore - The Seashore is one of the largest and last
surviving Mid-Atlantic barrier islands possessing a continuum of intact coastal habitats where the
full range of natural processes occur with little or no human interference. The 31,000 acres of
marine and estuarine waters within the Seashore are a protected vestige of the high quality
ecosystems that once occurred throughout the Mid-Atlantic coastal region of the United
States. The Seashore’s habitats support a broad array of aquatic and terrestrial species, many of
which are rare, uniquely adapted to life at the edge of the sea, and dependent upon natural
ecosystem processes undisturbed by humans. Amidst the highly developed Mid-Atlantic region,
the Seashore’s coastal resources provide unique opportunities for nature-based recreation,
education, solitude, and inspiration. Learn more at www.nps.gov/asis.

About the National Park Service - More than 20,000 National Park Service employees care for
America's 401 national parks and work with communities across the nation to help preserve local
history and create close-to-home recreational opportunities. Learn more at www.nps.gov.



Last updated: February 26, 2015

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