Tourists aren’t the only ones flocking to Blue Flag beaches. Toronto’s Hanlan’s Point is the latest beach with the eco-label to attract Piping Plovers. A pair of these endangered shorebirds was spotted in May, and so far at least one nest has been found with four eggs. It’s great news! Plovers haven’t nested at Hanlan’s Point since 1934.

The Piping Plover is a small shorebird with a pale, sandy-coloured back and head, white under parts and orange legs. During breeding, the short bill is orange with a black tip, and there is a black band across the eyes and breast. Plovers are named after their high-pitched “pipe” call. The species was absent from Ontario for 30 years before returning to nest at Wasaga Beach in 2005. Sauble Beach was next, in 2007. Now Hanlan’s has joined the ranks. What do these Blue Flag beaches have in common?

The answer is habitat. Blue Flag beaches are ideal, because they have to meet criteria for environmental management, including the protection of sensitive habitat and species. To meet these standards, many Blue Flag communities have undertaken habitat restoration of their beaches. Hanlan’s, Wasaga and Sauble all had their coastal dunes restored before the plovers returned.

Plovers choose beaches with dunes and sparse vegetation, which provide a source of insects and cover from predators. Plovers peck in the sand and search small pools of water for food – mostly insects and small crustaceans. Overly groomed beaches lack natural hiding places, making eggs and chicks vulnerable to predators. That is why it is so important to manage beaches sustainably and allow shorelines to re-naturalize.

Next time you go to a beach, maybe you will think of it differently. Beaches are not sterile sand boxes – they are important ecosystems that can support beautiful and fragile species like Piping Plovers. Beaches are not just for people – they are also for the birds!

What can you do to help the plovers?

 

  • Use designated pathways and do not trample dunes. This leads to erosion and loss of habitat.
  • Volunteer for habitat restoration activities like dune grass planting.
  • If you are visiting a beach with nesting plovers, obey signage and fencing. Observe the birds at a distance and do not disturb nests, young or adults.
  • Don’t feed birds or leave food scraps on the beach – human food attracts predators like gulls and racooons, which prey on vulnerable plover eggs and chicks.
  • Keep pets off of the beach.
  • Do not drive off-road vehicles on beaches or dunes.
  • Tell your friends and family about the plovers, and the need to protect beach habitat like dunes.
  • If you find nesting Piping Plovers, report your sighting to the MNR.
  • Volunteer to be a Piping Plover Guardian
  • Hanlan’s Point: kmcdonald@trca.on.ca
  • Sauble Beach: stew@synsol.ca  or saubleplover@gmail.com
  • Wasaga Beach: speciesatrisk@wasagabeachpark.com
  • Report any illegal activity related to plants and wildlife to 1-877-TIPS-MNR (847-7667).