Hart Haven Beach Buddies Plovers, osprey and oystercatchers in your neighborhood

by Chelsea Polevy, Shorebird Monitor, Mass Audubon at Felix Neck

It’s that time of year again—the shorebirds have returned and are nesting on beaches across Martha’s Vineyard! Over the past few months, we’ve witnessed the arrival of the piping plovers, American oystercatchers, and osprey (just to name a few).

Piping plovers are small, sand-colored shorebirds that have a black neck collar, black forehead bar, and orange legs. Males typically have darker neck collars and brighter orange parts (legs and bills). In Massachusetts, plovers return to the beaches where they have traditionally nested in late March through early May. Males establish territories, which consist of feeding areas and nesting sites, and attract females through courtship flights and dances. Female plovers lay eggs (3-4 per nest) as early as mid-April. Plovers are present right here on Harthaven Beach; they feed on the beach, as indicated by their tracks and by occasional plover sightings.

American oystercatchers are medium-sized shorebirds with black and white plumage and long, bright orange bills. Like plovers, oystercatchers feed and nest on local beaches. They lay 2-3 speckled, sand-colored eggs per nest. One oystercatcher pair is currently nesting on Harthaven Beach, and this pair is  incubating a 3-egg nest. The pair will take turns incubating the nest for approximately 23-28 days, at which time the eggs will hatch. Oystercatcher young are precocial, meaning they can leave the nest within hours of hatching, but will be fed by their parents for up to six weeks.

You’ve likely noticed the tall, wooden nest pole and platform on Harthaven Beach. This structure is home to a pair of osprey. Osprey are large, brown and white raptors whose diet consists almost exclusively of fish. Osprey hunt by diving talon-first into the water from some 30 to 100 feet up. They have gripping pads on their feet to help them pluck fish from the water. The osprey pair at Harthaven Beach have been incubating their nest since as early as April 19th. Osprey eggs don’t hatch all at once, but are staggered in time so that some siblings are older and more dominant. Osprey incubate for 32-33 days, so soon enough, you may see osprey chicks in the nest begging for food.

Piping plovers are listed as threatened at both the state and the federal level, and they are monitored closely by Mass Audubon personnel. We are working to protect piping plovers, as well as American oystercatchers and osprey, and you can help us!

Did you know that if a plover is scared off of its nest for as little as 15 minutes, the embryos in the eggs may not survive? So, staying outside of the symbolic fencing and keeping your dogs off the beach can greatly increase the birds’ chance for survival. In addition, carrying out your trash can decrease the presence of skunks and other predators on the beach. Please keep the shorebirds in mind as you are enjoying your time at the beach this summer. You, too, can make a difference!

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