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Piping Plovers Return to Island Beach State Park


June 28, 2016

A pair of piping plovers is now nesting on the beach at Island Beach State Park, the first ocean side nest in more than 25 years and the first in the park in more than a decade. This is great news for recovery of the federally threatened and state endangered piping plovers in New Jersey. NJDEP Division of Fish and Wildlife biologists hope this is an indication of a rebounding population after sharp declines witnessed between 2003 and 2014. The nest is located in the Park's Southern Natural Area.

Although there was a healthy increase in the statewide population in 2015 to 108 pairs, that increase came on the heels of the lowest statewide breeding population (92 pairs) since intensive statewide monitoring began in the late 1980s. Populations remain well below the peak population of 144 pairs in 2003 and well below the average population (118 pairs) since plovers were listed as a threatened species in 1986.

While piping plovers along the Atlantic coast have experienced some resurgence as a result of intensive management following federal listing, that has been primarily confined to New England. Recovery in the New York - New Jersey region is lagging virtually every other portion of their breeding range.

While the nest location in the area south of the end of the park's only road may be good news for plovers and endangered species biologists, it represents a challenge for park managers: this area is normally open to mobile sport fishermen who use their vehicles to access some of the most popular surf fishing in the state. Piping plovers chicks are precocial, which means they hatch covered in down and leave the nest within hours of hatching, running between their primary feeding area at water's edge to the cover found at the front of the dunes. This behavior makes them extremely vulnerable to unsuspecting motorists driving on the beach, especially since the young are tiny and camouflaged - colored to blend in with the sand - and have a habit of freezing and crouching in the face of approaching danger.

To give this new pair of piping plovers their best chance of successfully fledging their young, sportfishing vehicles are temporarily restricted from the beach (pdf, DPF Site). DEP officials did not make this decision lightly, recognizing that anglers who have purchased passes for the privilege of driving on the beach will be temporarily restricted from the area.

Without this measure, it would be highly likely that one or more of the chicks would be killed by the high volume of traffic this section of beach experiences on a typical summer weekend day. The state recognizes its responsibility to support the recovery of this imperiled species and to follow guidance provided by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state Endangered and Nongame Species Program biologists to protect the chicks.

Pedestrian access to the area will remain open, but the public is required to observe fencing and other regulations (such as no dogs on beach) to protect the nest and chicks. While the vehicle closure will provide some protection for the plovers, it by no means guarantees that plover chicks will survive. Many other factors play a role in determining fate of piping plover broods, such as weather, predation and feeding success.

For more information on Piping Plovers and other beach nesting birds, including annual management reports, visit

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Department of Environmental Protection
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Trenton, NJ 08625-0402

Last Updated: June 28, 2016