Many years ago, I met Piping Plovers on the islands of the Virginia Coast Reserve. My work there dealt with terns, skimmers, and gulls, but it was a real treat to spend two summers in that wild place and enjoy the other wildlife there. Oystercatchers, Seaside Sparrows, Willets – these were creatures foreign to a young man from the dairy country of Central New York.
Perhaps the most endearing denizens of those lonely dunes and windswept beaches was the Piping Plover. Small birds, the color of the sands that sustained them, these birds are as emblematic of wild beaches as Spotted Owls are ancient forests or Red-cockaded Woodpeckers are longleaf pine savannas. To this day, when I imagine hearing the sweet “PEEP-lo!” of Piping Plovers, I hear it breaking through as a sweet melody above the regular static of ocean waves on the beach. I hear it and feel the wind in my hair, the grains of sand in my teeth.
The National Audubon Society is intensely interested in Piping Plovers, as we all should be. As a Federally Endangered/Threatened Species, the Piping Plover is a unique part of our natural heritage, one that has experienced great population declines along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, the Great Lakes, and our great sandy rivers of the interior. Hotels, homes, rip-rap, boat slips, off-road vehicles, dogs and cats – these things are largely incompatible with Piping Plovers, and in case after endless case the plovers have lost ground to humans and our trappings of modern life.
Part of a comprehensive plan for plover recovery includes efforts to educate people to the birds and their constant struggle to find habitat. The National Audubon Society has begun doing that with a focus on “Melody”, a fictional plover whose life is now being chronicled here. Enjoy!