Piping Plovers are listed as an endangered species in Canada and is regulated under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act. These are shorebirds that may be seen on Wasaga’s beachfront which provides excellent habitat for them to nest.
In general, plovers nest on wide beaches that have some gravel or cobble cover, little vegetative cover and a large distance from nest site to treeline. Nests placed in sites with little vegetative cover, and at a distance from the treeline provide adult birds with clear visibility over long distances. This nesting behaviour may be the result of a predator avoidance strategy. The presence of shells or cobble may indicate higher ground that is less likely to be flooded and is therefore safer.
In the Great Lakes region, Piping Plovers arrive on their breeding grounds in late April and nests are usually initiated by mid to late May. In areas were several Piping Plovers are located, the birds may become involved in aggressive territorial interactions upon their arrival, including traversing their territory in both flights and runs. These traverses are interspersed with preening their neck ring to make it appear darker and wider and scanning the area.
These small birds make their nests on the open part of the beach. Their nests are often just small depressions in the sand, holding up to four sand coloured eggs. They are vulnerable to storms, predators, and human traffic.
The Piping Plover is a small, migratory shorebird with a pale, dry sand coloured back and head, white under-parts, and orange legs. These birds can blend in remarkably well with the beach around them. When in breeding plumage, the short bill is orange with a black tip, a single black band stretches between the eyes, and one runs across the breast. Their high-pitched “pipe” call and habit of breeding on open sand or gravel beaches characterize Piping Plovers; in breeding plumage both sexes look similar.
Piping Plovers were formerly fairly common along the Nottawasaga Bay shores and their presence on these beaches has declined significantly due to loss of habitat. They are now considered an endangered species in Canada. Beach areas in the Great Lakes region have been used as recreational areas which have deterred plovers from choosing these locations for nesting and breeding. In more recent years, in order to fulfill Ontario Parks’ protection objective, the natural area at the eastern end of Beach 1 (also known as The Point) has been designated as important shorebird habitat and efforts have been made to maintain this area in that manner.
The recent presence of Piping Plovers within Wasaga Beach Provincial Park allows park staff to monitor the bird’s behaviour and help the status of the population. Once these birds are spotted on the beach, daily monitoring takes place to note their foraging, nesting, mating, and territorial behaviour. Nest enclosures are diligently set up by park staff to help protect the birds from predation. Park staff and volunteers work hard to prevent the public from disturbing nesting sites and are also available to provide education for visitors. Banding of these birds (chicks and adults) for future monitoring and research is done later in the summer by park staff to help better understand their population.
The presence of Piping Plovers on the beach is a great news story about an endangered species that may be on its way to recovery with the assistance of humans. Without human intervention, this bird would likely continue to decline in numbers. At Wasaga Beach, there is a unique opportunity to act as stewards for this species through a number of volunteer actions. For more information please contact the park office 705-429-2516.
To volunteer, please contact Patricia Davidson at 705-429-2516 or Patricia.L.Davidson@ontario.ca