The Maine Warden Service wants to interview a woman who saw an unleashed dog attack and kill a piping plover chick on Pine Point Beach in Scarborough.
Piping plovers are classified as endangered by the state and are listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with just 47 nesting pairs left in Maine.
Sgt. Tim Spahr, a game warden, said the witness told a volunteer at the Scarborough Marsh Audubon Center on Pine Point Road that the dog’s owner “paid no attention” to her warnings as the dog approached the protected nesting site.
The dog reportedly attacked the shorebird and killed it around 10 a.m. Monday. The witness took the dead chick to the Scarborough Marsh Audubon Center and left it with the volunteer, who did not get her name or address.
Spahr said he and federal agents want to reconstruct what happened based on the woman’s account because the dog’s owner could face charges.
The dead bird was a fledgling, which means it was just learning to fly, said Laura Minich Zitske, a wildlife biologist with Maine Audubon in Falmouth. It was the only surviving bird out of four that hatched last month on Pine Point Beach.
“It takes about 25 days for a chick to grow from the size of a cotton ball to the size of a robin. This bird had just fledged, but it was not that good at flying when it was attacked,” Zitske said. “It’s frustrating because this was the week where this chick was most vulnerable.”
Each week, Maine Audubon closely monitors 24 piping plover nesting sites from Reid State Park in Georgetown to Ogunquit Beach in York County.
There was only one nesting site this summer at Pine Point Beach, a busy summer community just north of Old Orchard Beach. Zitske said she was hopeful that the fledgling would survive. Most people were respectful of the nesting site, which was roped off and posted with signs.
Scarborough police said a town ordinance allows dogs to be unleashed on the beach, under voice control, from sunrise to 9 a.m. from June 15 to Sept. 15.
“All it takes is one person being irresponsible, who doesn’t have their dog under control,” Zitske said.
According to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, the piping plover is about 7 inches long with a wingspan of 15 inches. Its back is a uniform sandy brown. Its underside is white and its legs are orange.
Piping plovers breed each spring on the Atlantic coast from Newfoundland to South Carolina, on beaches in the Great Lakes and near major rivers and alkali lakes of the northern Great Plains.
Roaming pets, storms and humans pose threats to the piping plover population.
Spahr said his agency has partnered with Maine Audubon, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands to protect piping plovers.
Public awareness has also increased. A decade ago, Spahr said, he saw bumper stickers on cars that read, “Plovers taste like chicken.”
If the investigation shows that the dog’s owner violated the law that protects the birds, the person could face fines ranging from $500 to $1,000 and jail time, Spahr said, though jail is unlikely because the offense is a misdemeanor.
A necropsy will be done on the bird to determine how it died.
Last year, game wardens found two dead adult piping plovers on Goose Rocks Beach in Kennebunkport.
Working with game wardens, Maine Audubon set up a camera that captured a house cat prowling near the nesting site.
Wardens canvassed the neighborhood, found the cat and got its owner to agree to keep the cat indoors. No more birds were killed.
Though the death of the piping plover at Pine Point Beach was discouraging, Zitske said, there was cause to celebrate this month.
Three piping plovers from a nesting site at Old Orchard Beach reached fledging size last week. Two more fledged last week in Saco and survived.
Anyone with information concerning the incident at Pine Point Beach should contact Spahr at 557-0895 or Maine State Police at 657-3030.
Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: