Published on October 23, 2017

Coastal Waterbird Update for the 2017 Season

Piping Plover feeding in mud flat
Piping Plover feeding in mud flat

Children’s book author Martin Jenkins knows that it isn’t easy protecting endangered animals. "When it comes to looking after all the species that are already endangered," he explains, "there's such a lot to do that sometimes it might all seem to be too much, especially when there are so many other important things to worry about. But if we stop trying, the chances are that pretty soon we'll end up with a world where there are no tigers or elephants, or sawfishes or whooping cranes, or albatrosses or ground iguanas. And I think that would be a shame, don't you?"

And while we value tigers, elephants and iguanas, we also care deeply about the threatened species in our backyard.

On the Island, these include shorebirds such as piping plovers and terns, and we won’t stop trying to protect them no matter the odds. This season, we had to take the good with the bad in terms of reproductive success.

The 2017 Season

The Coastal Waterbird team at Felix Neck—comprised of staff members and volunteers—monitored piping plovers, terns, and American oystercatchers at 18 sites on Martha’s Vineyard during the 2017 nesting season (March through August). Additional avian research and monitoring activities included a weekly cormorant count, coastal waterbird censuses, and band resights for selected species.

Piping Plover and Chicks © John Van deGraaff
Piping Plover and Chicks © John Van deGraaff

Piping Plovers

The number of piping plover pairs that nested on sites monitored by Felix Neck staff has been declining over the years and productivity rates have also not been high. Weather and predation are the largest cause of poor productivity.

Only four pairs were present on our beaches and this past season’s productivity rate of 0.05 fledgling/pair, while higher than last year, is significantly below the recovery goal of 1.5 fledglings/pair—a rate that is to be maintained for five years for the entire North American population. 

American Oystercatchers

More about piping plovers >

American Oystercatchers

American oystercatchers fared much better. Overall, 10 American oystercatcher pairs fledged a total of 12 chicks! This season’s American oystercatcher productivity rate was 1.2 fledglings/pair—an increase of 0.8 fledglings/pair in comparison to last year’s Mass Audubon monitored sites. 

More about American oystercatchers >


Least Tern Chick
Least tern chick © Jon Van DeGraaff

Four sites monitored by Mass Audubon staff were utilized by breeding common and least terns this past season. Two least tern colonies fledged 6 birds and two common tern colonies of 70 birds fledged 10.   

More about common terns >
More about least terns >

Other Activities

The Coastal Waterbird Program staff also educated the island community through informal interactions during site visits and formal educational programming. The educational programming, geared towards a wide variety of audiences, included shorebird tracking lessons and a weekly family program sponsored by the Friends of Sengekontacket. This weekly family program included different aspects of pond ecology and emphasized the protection of breeding birds on State Beach and on the islands in Sengekontacket Pond. There were also two guided shorebird walks for adults offered in May on State Beach.

We will never stop trying to protect and encourage the survival of these birds because, we, too, believe it would be a shame to have a world without these very special species.

Get Involved

Interested in volunteering with the Coastal Waterbird Program at Felix Neck? Contact Suzan Bellincampi by email or by calling 508-627-4850 x9400.