2016 International Piping Plover Census – We Need your Help!

By deweidemann November 12, 2015
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Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus). Photograph by Walker Golder.

Every five years, hundreds of volunteers fan out over miles of coastal habitat to survey one of the most endangered shorebirds in the Western Hemisphere, the Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus). We need your help to look for them and count them in the Caribbean during 2016!

The first International Piping Plover Census was conducted in 1991 but in the early years the winter census was focused in the southern U.S. and we were missing a lot of birds. It was a mystery whether birds were just harder to count in the winter, or migrating to sites not being surveyed. However, during the 2011 Census we discovered over 1,000 birds wintering in the Bahamas which likely represents about one-third of the Atlantic Coast breeding population.

We are just beginning to understand how important the Caribbean is to the Piping Plover and we hope to learn a lot more during the 2016 census. Fortuitously, the Piping Plover census coincides with the Caribbean Waterbird Census (CWC) region-wide count period in winter from 14 January-3 February (additional information and important links can be found here). By surveying coastal habitats that are favored by this species—including beaches, tidal flats, mangroves and mud flats—you can contribute to our understanding of the distribution and abundance of this species in the Caribbean.

The official Piping Plover Census dates are 18 January-1 February but we welcome surveys a week before or after the official window. In some cases a boat may be required to access habitat but surveys generally involve a simple walking transect, like the basic area search method for the Caribbean Waterbird Census. In addition to Piping Plovers we are also very interested in counting Snowy and Wilson’s Plovers. Piping Plover’s are not typically found in vegetated wetlands and are not common in Salinas. Rather, they seem to prefer sand flats and are often found in association with bonefishing habitat. Hence, for some sites there may be tidal considerations in optimally timing your survey.

The 2016 International Piping Plover Census is a great opportunity to observe this threatened species. Photograph by Walker Golder.

The 2016 International Piping Plover Census is a great opportunity to observe this threatened species. Photograph by Walker Golder.

Please mark your calendars, think about potential habitat in your area, and brush up on your plover identification skills. Instructions for submitting data online will be provided closer to the survey dates. However, if you would like to participate in the International Piping Plover Census or have any questions about the census please contact Elise Elliott-Smith (eelliott-smith@usgs.gov).

Elise Elliott-Smith

Thanks to Walker Golder for use of the photographs.