MONMOUTH COUNTY BEACH NESTING BIRD MONITORING AND STEWARDSHIP PROGRAM
Professor John Tiedemann, Assistant Dean, Director of the Marine and Environmental Biology and Policy Program (MEBP)
The beach nesting bird monitoring and stewardship program is one of the projects based in the Tiedemann lab. This program focuses on birds like the piping plover, the least tern, and the greater oystercatcher. The piping plover, a small sandpiper-like bird, nests on coastal beaches from Newfoundland and southeastern Quebec to North Carolina. Once common along the Atlantic coast, piping plover populations were decimated by hunting for the millinery trade in the early twentieth century. Passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918 stopped the hunting of these birds and the Atlantic coast population recovered to some extent. Unfortunately, in the past several decades, the population has declined dramatically as a result of disturbance of nesting habitat and breeding conditions.
Piping Plover with chicks in Belmar, 2011. Photo by Monmouth University Intern Arielle Lebeau.
The piping plover was listed as a protected species under the Federal Endangered Species Act in 1986. In New Jersey, the piping plover was listed as a state endangered species in 1984.
Piping plovers return to their breeding grounds in late March or early April and begin nesting along the barrier beaches in nesting territories. The nest consists of a depression in the sand somewhere on the backshore region of high beach, near the foot of the dune system.
Least terns, our smallest tern species, share nesting habitats with piping plovers. Least terns nest in colonies, making shallow scrapes along the beach berm or on large sand flats and overwash areas. Least terns are also listed as endangered in New Jersey.
Factors contributing to declines of these two beach nesting birds include:
- Disruption of natural coastal processes that create and renew nesting habitats.
- Commercial, residential, and recreational development of coastal areas.
- Human disturbance associated with recreational beach use such as foot and vehicular traffic.
- Harassment by pets, especially dogs.
- Predation by gulls, crows, raccoons, skunks, foxes, and domestic and feral cats.
Beach replenishment projects conducted since the 1990s have resulted in the creation of nesting habitats along Monmouth County beaches that had not supported piping plovers or least terns in over twenty years. The creation of the nesting habitats in these locations has resulted in expanded monitoring and management responsibilities for the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife Endangered and Nongame Species Program (NJDFW-ENSP).
Since 2001, the Monmouth University School of Science has been involved in the beach nesting birds monitoring management programs conducted by NJDFW-ENSP through the Monmouth County Beach Nesting Bird Monitoring and Stewardship Program. Each summer, Monmouth University interns work side-by-side with state wildlife biologist to:
- Assist with surveys of Monmouth County beaches to assess nesting activity of piping plovers and least terns.
- Assist with weekly monitoring of the status of all located nests or nesting colonies at assigned beaches including determining the outcome of all piping plover nests, fate of piping plover chicks and probable cause of nest failures, and reproductive success of least tern colonies.
- Participate in teams to erect and remove signs, fencing, predator exclosures, and feeding corridors, as well as other related management tasks, such as banding other shore birds.
- Patrol nesting sites to reduce effects of human disturbance and provide public outreach, especially during periods of heavy recreational beach usage (weekends and holidays).
This project is sponsored by NJDFW-ENSP in cooperation with the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.