Connecticut DEEP Announces Piping Plover & Least Tern Nesting Season Results

Nov 11th, 2011 | By | Category: Birding, Featured Story, Wildlife

The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) announced the results from the 2011 piping plover and least tern nesting season.  Fifty-two pairs of piping plovers nested along the Connecticut coastline during the 2011 breeding season; nine more than last year.  The number of young that fledged (reached flying stage) was 71; 11 less than the 82 plovers that fledged in 2010.

The piping plover and least tern are classified as threatened in Connecticut; the piping plover also has been listed as federally threatened since 1986.  Both shorebirds prefer to nest on sandy beaches, but only a limited number of sites are available due to current shoreline development and recreational use.

         “2011 was a very good year for piping plovers, with an increase in nesting pairs,” said Rick Jacobson, Director of the DEEP Wildlife Division.  “The consistent number of piping plover chicks fledged every nesting season since 1986 is encouraging and reflects the cooperation of coastal users.”

The DEEP Wildlife Division also monitors the nesting activities of least terns.  These small shorebirds are colonial nesters and are usually found near or among piping plover nests.  Approximately 359 pairs of least terns nested in the state this season, a large increase from the 119 pairs that nested in 2010.  The number of young that fledged was 124, which also is much higher than the 36 least terns that fledged in 2010.

“Using specific and carefully researched procedures, Wildlife Division biologists protect nesting plovers and terns by fencing off breeding grounds on selected beaches with string to discourage people and dogs from disturbing birds in the area, said Jacobson.”

Educational signs are posted around the breeding grounds that are fenced off with string.  When individual plover nests are located, a wire “exclosure,” with a top net, is erected around each nest.  The exclosure is designed to keep dogs, house cats, skunks, raccoons, weasels, foxes, and avian predators from reaching the eggs.

Least terns are another matter as their flight patterns inhibit the use of individual fencing. Consequently, walkers, anglers, and dogs often disturb these birds.

Piping plovers return to Connecticut from their wintering grounds in March and begin nesting in April. Recreational use of shoreline areas usually increases at the start of the nesting season and human disturbance often prevents nesting plovers from tending their eggs and young.  Also, human litter attracts mammalian and avian predators to beach areas, further hampering nesting success.  Least terns return to Connecticut by May and begin nesting in late May/early June, a time when beach areas receive heavy recreational use.

The DEEP Wildlife Division is encouraged by the increase in the number of least tern nesting pairs.  However, the number of pairs has been well below the average for the past few years in Connecticut, and it was hoped that the repeated poor success that this species was experiencing wouldn’t cause the adults to abandon Connecticut beaches as a nesting site in the future.

What affected the fledging success of piping plovers and least terns this year?  Two storm events during high tides, one in May and one in June, and the high winds associated with each, were the most damaging for both bird species in 2011 as their nests were inundated with water and the eggs were destroyed.

The DEEP Wildlife Division appreciates the cooperation of those who respected the fenced and posted areas during the summer nesting season.  Thanks to the public education efforts of volunteers from The Nature Conservancy and Connecticut Audubon Society, beach visitors and dog owners at several sites were very cooperative.  The Division encourages volunteer assistance and hopes to continue public education next season.  Volunteers are being sought for next summer to assist with public education efforts at several nesting beaches in the West Haven, Stratford, and Milford areas. For more information, contact Jenny Dickson at the Wildlife Division’s Sessions Woods Wildlife Management Area, P. O. Box 1550, Burlington, CT 06013, or send an email to

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