Tony Beck - Photography, Nature and Birding Tours, Local Birding Excursions

Archive for June, 2011

Plight of the Piping Plover

Piping Plover

Piping Plover

Everyone loves the beach. How can we resist soft sand between our toes, the tranquil sound of rolling waves, beautiful tanned bodies laying on blankets soaking the sun, and cool surf to comfort us from the heat? For us humans, the beach is an extremely popular playground, especially during hot summer days.
But, for the tiny Piping Plover, the beach is a matter of survival. It’s the only place where it can make a nest, raise its young and find food. Without sandy beaches, the Piping Plover can’t exist.
Unfortunately, there are more humans on beaches these days than Piping Plovers. People love the beach so much they use them to walk their dogs, drive their recreational vehicles, play their sports, and have their parties. How can the tiny Piping Plover compete with that?
Fortunately, conservation efforts effectively protect these sweet little birds. Cages are placed over nests to protect them from all types of problems like foxes, gulls, wandering family pets, all-terrain vehicles, dirt-bikes and thoughtless humans while allowing free-passage for the parents to come & go from the nest. A brightly marked barrier of flags and cord is also set up to give the nest further protective space. Although costly, these efforts have proven to be successful. On the Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, an extremely busy summer playground lined with perfect beaches, and a stronghold of the Piping Plover, their numbers remain reasonably stable. Breeding pair numbers fluctuate from 35 to 53, with success rates reaching as much as 78%.
The sad news is that funding for these efforts is drying up quickly. Economic struggles continue to place pressure on various funding agents, while our appetite for recreational use of beaches increases. To further aggravate the problem, a significant percentage of the human population couldn’t care less about the future of the tiny little Piping Plover.
Without funding, protection efforts and awareness programs will be significantly minimized.
The future of the beach-loving Piping Plover is becoming increasingly uncertain.

Protected Piping Plover Nest Site

Protected Piping Plover Nest Site


Piping Plover on a nest

Piping Plover on a nest


adult Piping Plover protecting its young under its wing

adult Piping Plover protecting its young under its wing

How Old Is That Bird?

Adult Male Red-winged Blackbird

Adult Male Red-winged Blackbird


Red-winged Blackbirds, the most common bird in North America, has only been known to reach 15 years of age.

People often ask me how old do birds live. Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer.
The shocking truth is that only a tiny percent of creatures born in the wild survive beyond their first year.
The percentage figure is different depending on the study, the species, the situation or a number of other factors.
Regardless, it’s consistently small – frequently 20% or less.
Nature is harsh and challenging. A young animal must adapt quickly if it wants to live.
It needs to find food & shelter, deal with pressures from competition, and avoid predators.
Once it builds a little strength, and acquires some experience, it’s better equipped to face the challenges of the wilderness.
So, once it passes the one-year mark, it may be on its way to a ripe old age.
But, what is a ripe-old-age for a bird? This is another question without a simple answer.
Bird-banding records provide some data.
Unfortunately, very few bands are ever recovered. And, in the case of long-lived birds like albatross, the bird can easily outlive their metal leg bands.
Regardless, bird-banding is one of the only reliable methods for recording bird longevity.
Some seabirds are known to live beyond 60 years.
Small songbirds are lucky to reach their teens.
Yet, some birds in captivity can live into their 80s.
Some authorities figure that a few larger species can live as long as humans.
But, until data-recording methods improve, a lot of this is simply guesswork.

Adult Wandering Albatross

Adult Wandering Albatross


The Wandering Albatross, the bird with the world’s longest wingspan, is believed to have a life expectancy similar to humans. But, verifying this is extremely difficult since the birds can out-live the bands that indicate their age.

Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee


A back-yard favourite, the record life-span of the Black-capped Chickadee is only 12 years.

first cycle Herring Gull

first cycle Herring Gull


Most birds, like this Herring Gull, don’t reach the end of their first year. But, if they survive beyond the one-year threshold, they’re likely experienced and healthy enough to live a long life.