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Hurricane Matthew May Have Decimated Piping Plover Population

Steven Senne
An adult piping plover runs along a beach as waves lap on the shore in the Quonochontaug Conservation Area, in Westerly, R.I.

Bird lovers may see a lot less of the piping plover on the region’s beaches this summer. The little black-and-white shorebirds’ winter habitat in the Bahamas was hit hard by Hurricane Matthew last year, taking a heavy toll on the birds.

Piping plovers were already considered threatened in Connecticut – they’ve been hurt by shoreline development and careless beachgoers. But their winter vacation spot in the Bahamas has no human development, just thousands of other piping plovers from all over North America. Patrick Comins, with the National Audubon Society’s Connecticut chapter, says this year, it was no vacation.

“Hurricane Matthew went over some of the most important wintering habitat at a really vulnerable time for the birds, just as they were arriving. The plovers took a big hit, and it’s probably our plovers that took a big hit.”

Nobody’s sure yet how many plovers died when Matthew’s 15-foot waves hit the beaches of the Bahamas. Audubon says about two-thirds of the birds were missing after the hurricane. Now, Comins says there’s a possibility the storm just wrecked the beaches, and the plovers made it out and flew off to find another beach somewhere.

“But right now, it isn’t looking good. Considering how powerful that storm was and where it went, it does seem likely the birds themselves would have been impacted, not just the habitats.”

The survivors should make it home to the Northeast by March. Comins says Audubon and other bird groups will keep an eye on them to see how many make it back, and what can be done to help the piping plovers recover.

Davis Dunavin loves telling stories, whether on the radio or around the campfire. He started in Missouri and ended up in Connecticut, which, he'd like to point out, is the same geographic trajectory taken by Mark Twain.
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