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Survey shows more Wilsons plover pairs
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BRUNSWICK — With more than 350 nesting pairs, Wilson’s plovers in Georgia are doing much better than 10 years ago, according to a survey led by the state Department of Natural Resources.
The survey in May and June found three times as many nesting pairs as in 2000. The increase for these shorebirds state-listed as rare in Georgia is credited mostly to improved habitat, according to wildlife biologist Tim Keyes of the DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section.
Of 19 islands surveyed, Cumberland led with 106 nesting pairs, followed by St. Catherines and Ossabaw with 49 and 44 pairs, respectively. All accretional beach and dune areas considered potential nesting habitat, including terraced sand and wrack flats, embryonic and developed dune fields, and beach wash-over plumes not subjected to regular tidal flooding, were surveyed on foot.
“The high numbers of Wilson’s plover this year, coupled with observing many chicks at a number of locations, was an exciting find,” Keyes said. “Beach nesting birds face so many challenges, ranging from storms and high tides to avian and terrestrial predators and human and canine disturbances, it often seems remarkable that they ever successfully fledge young.”
Wilson’s plover is a medium-sized shorebird once numerous on south Atlantic and Gulf Coast beaches. Following declines, the species is now listed among high-priority animals in the Georgia Wildlife Action Plan, a comprehensive strategy that guides efforts statewide to conserve biological diversity.
Apart from counting nesting pairs of Wilson’s plovers, workers placed signs in areas of high nesting concentrations to warn beach-goers of the birds’ presence. When faced with close human approach, adult birds will flush off the nest and, using distraction displays, attempt to lure people away from the nest. If the birds are kept from the nest too long, the eggs may overheat or be eaten by gulls, crabs and other predators.
Keyes said survey participants included Jen Hilburn of the St. Catherines Island Foundation, Scott Coleman of Little St. Simons Island and several volunteers who also help monitor sea turtle nesting. The National Park Service on Cumberland and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also provided assistance.
Keyes thanked all who helped. “This survey would not have been possible without the full cooperation and at times participation of people working on all of Georgia’s barrier islands, and we are very grateful to them for their assistance,” he said.
His goal is to repeat the survey every five years, depending on manpower. This year’s census of Wilson’s plovers follows estimates of 107 nesting pairs in 2000, 360 in 1980 and 200-250 in 1986-1987. The survey is an example of how buying a nongame license plate or donating to the Georgia Wildlife Conservation Fund supports wildlife conservation. Contributions benefit the Nongame Conservation Section, which receives no state general funds for its mission to conserve wildlife not legally hunted, fished for or trapped, as well as rare plants and natural habitats in the state.

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