Piping Plover Chick at Eel Point
Photo:Libby Buck

Every year the shorebird breeding season has its challenges and 2020 was no different. Fortunately for us, the shorebirds were unaware of Covid-19 and still continued to nest at their respective beaches across the island. From the 2020 preliminary data for Nantucket which includes Tuckernuck and Muskeget Islands, there was a total of 57 breeding pairs of Piping Plovers. In 2019, we counted a total of 42 breeding pairs, an increase of 15 pairs. NCF properties have historically hosted nesting Piping Plovers in high numbers at Eel Point and the trend has continued this year with 7 pairs. The surprise of this season was having another 7 pairs nesting along the Foundation’s Coatue property.  In 2019, only 2 nesting pairs were in residence.  Shorebird nesting habitats are constantly changing due to erosion, sea level rise, and human disturbance.  NCF properties provide these shorebirds with new territories when established nesting areas are no longer viable.

Piping Plover adult with a juvenile chick at Eel Point
Photo: Libby Buck

Breeding pairs of American Oystercatchers also increased this year from 44 to 46 pairs. Of those 46 pairs, 15 of them nested along Coatue. Nantucket holds the highest breeding population of American Oystercatchers in Massachusetts. Since 2005, Nantucket Conservation Foundation has participated in the American Oystercatcher Working Group by banding and re-sighting oystercatchers. Each season when the chicks are almost 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. Despite all the setbacks this season we were still able to band 26 chicks.  Not only can researchers and conservation groups report the bands but you can too. If you see an American Oystercatcher with bands on their legs please report them to

American Oystercatcher chick with a yellow band (CHU)
Photo: Libby Buck

Since the shorebird breeding season is coming to an end, you may have noticed that the bird fencing is being removed from the beaches. Please be aware that some fencing will remain up due to the “staging birds”.  Staging birds are the shorebirds that need stopover areas to refuel so they can complete their entire migration. If you see many birds gathered together on the beach please do not chase them or let you dog run through a flock. They may have flown many miles and just need some time to rest and recharge.  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.  Their lives may depend on it.

Flock of American Oystercatchers in 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!