Piping plover populations first plummeted in the 19th century due to unrestricted hunting for hat-making purposes. The shorebird rebounded briefly after the passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918, but the surge in development and recreational usage of beaches after World War II cut recovery short. The resulting loss of habitat reduced populations to the low levels that continue to be seen today.
Why They’re Important
Due to their specific habitat needs, piping plovers play the role of indicator species for barrier beaches. This means their increase or decrease of nesting attempts reveal habitat changes over time, which could impact additional nesting species like sea turtles and other shorebirds.
Human-caused habitat destruction remains the greatest threat facing piping plovers today. Not only do coastal development and recreation destroy beach habitat directly, but local shore development also leads to stray food that increases the number of predators, like foxes, raccoons, and skunks. Unrestricted off-road vehicles, pedestrians and pets are often responsible for exposing nesting chicks and even crushing nests.
What Defenders Is Doing to Help Piping Plovers
Defenders of Wildlife is working to protect the piping plover population at Cape Hatteras National Seashore, a critical habitat for wintering and migrating plovers. We have worked with the National Park Service to develop a beach management plan that allows people to enjoy the seashore while preserving the area’s unique habitat and wildlife.
Defenders is also fighting to protect piping plover habitat in North Carolina’s Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. A current plan to replace the state’s deteriorating Herbert C. Bonner Bridge would necessitate the ongoing maintenance of a highway that runs through Pea Island, turning it into a permanent construction zone. Defenders is working to find an alternative to the parallel bridge and protect the hundreds of species, including the piping plover, who call the Outer Banks refuge home.