Piping Plovers in 2022. Courtesy photo/Bruce Small

The first piping plover of the season in Scarborough was spotted on Thursday, March 14, at Higgins Beach, signaling the arrival of spring along the Maine coast. With the arrival of these endangered shorebirds, protected by state and federal laws, the town and its partners work to protect the plovers and their nests.

“These plover sightings serve as a significant indicator of the changing seasons,” said Jami Fitch, Sustainability coordinator for Scarborough. “Plovers migrate south for the winter and return to our beaches in the spring. They usually return in late March or early April.”

With their arrival, protection of the birds and their nests begins.

In Scarborough, the protection of piping plovers is a paramount concern, given the town’s designation as a prime plover habitat. Scarborough’s beaches provide crucial nesting grounds for several pairs of piping plovers during the spring and summer months, sites that are vital for the species’ conservation.

“Plover nests are depressions or ‘scrapes’ formed in the sand,” Fitch said. “They typically build their nests on the upper beach near the dunes and use dune grass for cover and camouflage.


“This year’s winter storms impacted many Maine beaches where plovers nest,” Fitch said. “Staff from Maine Audubon and the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) have been surveying beaches for plover habitat following the storms, and they’ve shared that the plover habitat on Scarborough’s beaches appears to be in better condition than many other beaches.”

Collaboration between Scarborough and various state and federal agencies, along with local organizations, plays a pivotal role in protecting piping plovers. A Beach Management Agreement is in place between the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) and Scarborough that outlines measures to be taken to safeguard the birds.

Maine Audubon, in partnership with MDIFW, conducts regular surveys and monitors piping plovers on Scarborough’s beaches to ensure their well-being.

“Maine Audubon biologists visit Scarborough’s beaches several times per week during the nesting season to mark nesting areas, identify and monitor nests, count eggs and chicks, and much more,” Fitch said.

Volunteers also play a crucial role in these conservation efforts.

“Our volunteers will check on nesting sites (from a distance, only staff from MDIFW and Maine Audubon are primarily allowed near nests), and help count chicks once they’ve hatched,” Fitch said. “They’ll document their observations and interactions and provide this information to the Town. They also track their time and submit a weekly timesheet to MDIFW. Volunteer time helps MDIFW leverage a lot of federal funding that supports their wildlife programs. Before the start of the monitoring season, volunteers will also participate in an annual training with staff from the Town and Maine Audubon.”


Volunteers also educate beachgoers about the birds, Fitch said.

They remind beachgoers to adhere to beach rules and guidelines during the nesting season to ensure the safety of piping plovers. Restrictions include leash laws for dogs and prohibitions on certain activities near nesting areas, such as kite flying and fireworks.

The volunteers’ presence also “helps mitigate threats posed by natural predators, domestic pets, and human activities.”

“If you’re interested in helping the Town with our protection efforts, sign up to volunteer as a beach monitor,” Fitch said.

Volunteers commit to regular shifts, walking the beaches, educating visitors, and monitoring nesting areas. Fitch said training provided by the town and Maine Audubon equips volunteers with the necessary knowledge to fulfill their responsibilities effectively.

“Protecting piping plovers requires a collective effort,” Fitch said. “By adhering to beach regulations and supporting conservation initiatives, individuals can contribute to the preservation of these endangered shorebirds.”

For those interested in volunteering or learning more about piping plover conservation efforts, information is available on Scarborough’s website at scarboroughmaine.org. Homeowners and renters are encouraged to follow beach rules and take proactive measures to minimize their impact on plover habitat, particularly regarding pet ownership and waste management.


Comments are not available on this story.