by: Libby Buck, Ecological Stewardship & Research Technician

It is August and the days are slowly growing shorter and the end of summer is approaching.  The shorebirds on Nantucket are getting ready to start their long journey south.  I am happy to report our efforts to protect the endangered & threatened species this year have yielded some very positive results. 

Newly hatched Piping Plover chick waiting for its siblings to hatch at the Nantucket Field Station. Photo: Libby Buck

The Piping Plover breeding pairs have increased this year from 34 to 42 pairs for the entire island. Eleven of those pairs nested on NCF properties which include Eel Point, Coatue, Capaum Pond, and new site Nantucket Field Station. It is a common occurrence for Piping Plovers to nest on new beaches as they are constantly struggling with catastrophic habitat changes and having to start again in a new spot. There was one unique Piping Plover that was banded in 2017 on Monomoy Island (Chatham, MA) who tried to nest on Eel Point this year. Unfortunately, the nest failed due to overwash from a storm driven high tide.  This tenacious little bird decided to re-nest three miles away on Tuckernuck and was successful fledging three chicks. This was highly irregular for a Piping Plover to go to such an extreme distance to re-nest, but this adaptation certainly was productive.

Piping Plover Green Flag (AAA)/Blue Band Photo: Libby Buck

The largest Least Tern colony this year was out at Smith’s point having 410 breeding pairs. On Foundation properties, small Least Tern colonies formed this year on Eel Point, Coatue, and for the first time at the Nantucket Field Station. Least terns, Piping Plovers, and American Oystercatchers will often share the same nesting habitat and it is very beneficial to protect the entire area for all the species. Also, there was a returning pair of Common Terns that nested at the Haulover and successfully fledged two chicks this year. 

Common & Roseate Terns feeding at Eel Point
Photo: Libby Buck

Nantucket has one of the highest breeding populations of the American Oystercatchers in the state. There is total of 44 breeding pairs on the island, and Coatue is home to 15 of those pairs.  Nantucket Conservation Foundation participates in an ongoing population study with the American Oystercatcher Working Group. We are banding and re-sighting the adults and chicks on island and reporting back via the group’s database.  This year we banded 29 chicks, surpassing the 22 that were banded last year.  To learn more about the American Oystercatchers study or to report a banded Oystercatcher, please visit:

American Oystercatcher chick Yellow (CEO) was banded this year on Coatue.
Photo: Danielle O’Dell

Although our nesting shorebirds are leaving, be on the lookout for other migrants passing through. Now is the time to really pay attention to the mudflats at low tide especially at Eel Point and Smith’s Point. You could see Whimbrel, Semipalmated Plovers, Ruddy Turnstones, Red Knots, and many others.

Ruddy Turnstones, Red Knots, & Sanderlings feeding at Eel point.
Photo: Libby Buck

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!