Newly Hatched Baby Piping Plover Chicks
Photo: Libby Buck

From the 2021 preliminary data for Nantucket which includes Tuckernuck and Muskeget Islands, there was a total of 73 breeding pairs of Piping Plovers. In 2020, we counted a total of 61 breeding pairs, an increase of 12 pairs. Eel Point still remains one of the hot spots for nesting Piping Plovers with 11 nesting pairs. Due to late nesting birds, the Foundation’s Coatue property had a total of 10 nesting pairs of Piping Plovers. Typically, with Piping Plovers if their first nest doesn’t survive, they will try to re-nest up to three more times within the breeding season which may include changing territories. Many of our 2021 nest failures happened during the Memorial Day Weekend storm and then with the remnants of Storm Elsa. When any shorebird chick hatches, within the first 72-hours they cannot regulate their own body temperature. The parents try their hardest to protect them but if the weather is too cold or too hot, their chance of survival is very low.

The Least Tern colony at Eel Point
Photo: Jim Meehan

Eel Point was home to over 380 nesting pairs of Least Terns and 4 pairs of Common Terns for 2021. Both colonies weren’t successful this year due to a series of high tides that eventually washed out the all the eggs and chicks. Smith’s Point had an amazing Least Tern colony with a record high of 537 nesting Least Tern pairs and were very successful at fledging many chicks.

Least Tern Chick at Eel Point
Photo: Jim Meehan

Unfortunately, our breeding pairs of American Oystercatchers decreased this year from 46 to 33 pairs. Of those 33 pairs, 15 of them nested along Coatue. As of right now, the cause is unknown of why the nesting pair numbers have dropped. Typically, Nantucket holds the highest breeding population of American Oystercatchers in Massachusetts but for this year Martha’s Vineyard holds the title with 55 pairs. Annually, Nantucket Conservation Foundation works with the American Oystercatcher Working Group by banding and re-sighting oystercatchers. Just before the chicks are ready to fly, we place field-readable bands on their legs. Every band has its own unique code and will stay with the bird for its entire life.  This year we banded a total of 27 chicks, that’s one more than last year!

A new baby American Oystercatcher waiting on its siblings to hatch
Photo: Libby Buck

You can participate in tracking these birds as well.  Every pair of eyes on these birds is helpful.   If you see a banded American Oystercatcher, please report them to It’s amazing where these birds end up. Many of ours vacation in Cedar Key, Florida, but we have had some show up as far as Nicaragua and Ecuador.    

American Oystercatcher Chick banded as Yellow (CCT)
Photo: Libby Buck

The breeding season is coming to an end, you probably have noticed that the bird fencing is coming down.  We do leave certain fencing in place for the “staging birds”.  Staging birds are the shorebirds that need stopover areas to refuel so they can complete their entire migration, in other words, a bird rest area.  The birds gather together to rest up and refuel.  Please keep your pets on a leash, so they cannot run through the flock. They probably have flown many miles already and just need a little time to rest those little wings.  Some of these birds migrate from the Arctic to as far away as the South America.  If you flew over 3,000 miles to South America, you would be tired too!  So, give the birds the room to rest without disturbing their down time.  Bon Voyage, until next year!

Flock of migrating American Oystercatchers with other shorebirds in Cedar Key, Florida
Photo: Pat & Doris Leary

The Nantucket Conservation Foundation is a private, non-profit land trust that depends on contributions from our members to support our science projects, conservation property acquisitions and land management efforts. If you are not already a member, please join us now!