Prince Edward Island National Park, Prince Edward Island
When it comes to conserving piping plovers in Prince Edward Island National Park, every egg counts. So, when tidal flooding threatened to wash away an established nest with three eggs from a beach in the summer of 2017, Kerry-lynn Atkinson, a Prince Edward Island National Park resource conservation officer, didn’t sit idly by. She needed to move the eggs to safety. But how to do it without disturbing the pattern of broken shells and rocks the adults use to mark the well-camouflaged nest? “I devised a new method never used in the park, which used a flat pan to move the whole nest and all of the markers around it at the same time,” says Atkinson. It worked. All three eggs hatched, the chicks fledged and migrated south with the adults. The eggs Atkinson saved were three of only 27 laid in the park last year by just six pairs of plovers. Six has been the average number of breeding pairs to visit the park over the past 10 years, but there was a time when there were many more. Parks Canada has been monitoring the plovers since 1983, two years before they were listed as an endangered species. Back then, says Atkinson, they could have 27 breeding pairs and a hundred chicks running around, which kept Parks staff “pretty busy.” Since then, the population has been steadily decreasing. Though extremely good at hiding in plain sight, these tough little birds are incredibly vulnerable to disturbance from vehicles, habitat loss, predation and recreational activity on the beaches, among many other factors. Their continued persistence in the park is largely due to Parks Canada enforcing beach closures around critical breeding habitat and nesting locations, dog bans, public education campaigns, and an extremely vigilant monitoring program that allows people such as Atkinson a chance to prevent eggs from being swept out to sea. “If we can protect eggs throughout incubation,” says Atkinson, “we are quite successful at fledging the chicks.”
A piping plover at Prince Edward Island National Park ( this image). Kerry-lynn Atkinson, a resource conservation officer at the park, watches for the birds ( below).