Scarborough has banned fireworks on Higgins Beach this summer to protect the nesting grounds of piping plovers. Bill McCanna / Portland Press Herald

The Scarborough Town Council has voted to enact a partial ban on fireworks in the area of Higgins Beach, in part to protect the endangered piping plover, a shore bird that nests in the sands of the beach.

Councilor Jean-Marie Caterina initially asked for a total fireworks ban townwide, but at the council’s April 21 meeting the board approved a partial ban on the use of consumer fireworks from Spurwink Road (Route 77) to the coastline, Caterina said. The ban stops where Spurwink meets Black Point Road, confining the ban to mostly the area near Higgins Beach.

“That’s strictly at the moment. We’re continuing discussions,” Caterina said.

While Caterina cited fire danger and citizen complaints as reasons she called for the ban, she said she also worries about the health and well-being of the plovers. She goes for walks in the area, she said, and sees them there often.

“I’m sort of the adopted mom for the plovers on Western Beach,” she said.

The piping plover has been listed federally as threatened and endangered since 1986, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. There are three breeding populations, one on the Great Lakes, one based in the northern great plains and a third on the Atlantic coast. The latter group, according to the service, consists of only 1,372 breeding pairs.

Andrew Mackie, president of the Scarborough Land Trust and former 16-year employee of the National Audubon Society, said this week that the plovers, like many other birds, migrate south for the winter starting in July and usually return in May to lay eggs.

“That is a very metabolic activity,” he said. “It takes a lot of energy.”

Consumer fireworks, Mackie said, startle the birds, causing them to abandon their nests and young. It also prevents them from eating enough to put on enough weight to handle their migratory flights and, for the females, to lay eggs.

“If you disturb that enough, then you start getting failures to produce that next generation,” he said.

Sandy areas, such as beaches, are their natural habitat, one they need to return to in the same way that salmon need to swim upstream before they can spawn, Mackie said.

“These birds can’t go anywhere else,” he said. “They’re not going to nest in forests or go down the road to a marsh. They need sandy beaches.”

Mackie noted that human encroachment on the plovers’ habitat brings a lot of other threats, such as the presence of dogs and the attraction of wild animals such as raccoons, all of which feed on the plovers’ eggs, but banning fireworks in the beach area could certainly help the plovers, he said.

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