Revere Beach becoming an unexpected bird sanctuary

This photo of a Piping Plover was taken by George Mclean.

This photo of a Piping Plover was taken by George Mclean.

By Seth Daniel
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There are quite a few rare birds on Revere Beach, but none with as interesting a story as the endangered Piping Plovers.

The story of Revere Beach had been a sad one up until the mandatory Boston Harbor cleanup several years ago, and more recently, the careful attention that has been given to the nation’s oldest public beach. Now, the sand is clean, there are dunes forming, and most important, the water is no longer the awful brown color of putrefied contamination.

One unanticipated outcome of this transformation has been the return of endangered species of birds to the shoreline, and chief among those species is the small, fragile Piping Plover.

A similar story has also unfolded at beaches in Winthrop, making Revere Beach and Winthrop Beach two amazing stories in the birding world.

“Both beaches in Revere and Winthrop continue to have great production for Piping Plovers, which is kind of amazing since they are urban-type beaches,” said Becky Harris, director of Mass Audubon’s Coastal Waterbird Program. “Definitely it’s a sign for the whole program that they’re doing better and spreading to new habitats. It’s clearly a positive for the beach that it’s clean enough and has enough food, which would be invertebrates and bugs that require a clean environment. It’s a good indication of the state of the beach.”

Susannah Corona, the program’s North Shore coordinator, said the development is totally out of left field.

“It’s here and it’s quite unexpected, and it’s not like that in other beaches,” she said. “There are other beaches around that one would think would be more suited for this, but much to the disappointment of people there, these birds aren’t at those beaches. We’re getting some of the highest [chick] production. It’s been way higher than other places, which is something that no one ever thought would happen.”

Said Mayor Tom Ambrosino with a laugh, “That’s really great. They must have heard about Kelly’s.”

Harris added that other rare birds have been seen on Revere Beach, including the Manx Shearwater, a seabird related to the albatross and typically found only in the British Isles.

“Usually, they’re only far out at sea, but they’ve been consistently observed around Revere Beach flying around,” said Harris.

The Piping Plovers on Revere Beach first emerged in 2007, when a few of the little birds – which are listed on the federal and state list of endangered species – plotted down a nest on the Boulevard near the Point of Pines.

At that time, Mass Audubon moved in and put some protective fencing around the area where the nests were, and the birds actually hatched some chicks and fledged them (meaning they raised the chicks to be self-sufficient).

This year, another pair of Plovers returned to the same location and actually fledged four chicks. That, they said, is a very high number for two adult Plovers, especially considering the nest is located on a busy beach in a busy location.

“For Piping Plovers, if they fledge successfully, they will come back to the same spot year after year,” said Harris. “It is interesting these birds have nested in the same spot. This year, they nested about 10 feet from the sidewalk. People could actually stand up on the seawall and look inside the nest.”

However, neighbors on the Boulevard, said Corona and Harris, have become the birds’ unofficial keepers and protectors. Both said that anyone who appears to have nefarious intentions gets a quick warning from neighbors or walkers who frequent the area.

“People in Revere have been really helpful, and they’ve totally accepted them,” said Corona. “A lot of homeowners and people who walk up and down that beach were the ones taking care of that enclosure this year. That one has really worked out well.”

Massachusetts supports nearly 15 percent of the world’s population of Piping Plovers, which are small, sand-colored shorebirds that nest on sandy coastal beaches and dunes from Newfoundland to North Carolina. Thanks to a coordinated statewide conservation effort since the 1980s, population monitoring programs and protection of vital coastal nesting sites, the Massachusetts Piping Plover population has grown from 139 nesting pairs 20 years ago to 482 in 2006. Along the entire Atlantic Coast, the species went from 722 breeding pairs in 1985 to 1,743 in 2006.

“In the case of the Piping Plovers, I think the protections put in place years ago have worked and created more plovers that are now moving out to colonize their ancestral beaches,” said Corona. “They’re still not out of danger, but this speaks well to the fact that protections do work.”

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