Many of you may have seen “Piper”, the adorable Academy Award-winning Disney Pixar short film about a wee baby shorebird learning to fend for itself in its big new world.
But if you missed seeing it you don’t have to go to the movies to see the Piper story unfold. A real-life version plays all summer long right at Sauble Beach.
Here, for the past few years a tiny shorebird – the Piping Plover – has been nesting. The chicks hatch from a nest in the sand, right in the middle of Sauble’s wide beach, with beachgoers, and danger, all around them. In fact, these little birds face so many challenges that they have become an endangered species, provincially and nationally!
When the adult plovers arrive in mid-April and start looking for safe place to make their nest, there are few people or predators around. But by June just when the chicks hatch the beach gets busy with both. And then begins the Piping Plovers epic effort to raise their chicks in the face of almost overwhelmingly difficult odds, dodging beachgoers by day and predators by night!
Just like in the animated film, the tiny chicks hatch and hit the ground running, motoring across the beach like little wind-up toys. Needless to say these wee “Pipers” are every bit as cute as Piper in the film. They dash to the water’s edge, to forage along the food-rich drift line, dodging beach-walkers and waves, under the watchful eyes of the adult plovers. They scurry along, stabbing here and there at tiny prey, then run under the wings of an adult to thermoregulate (get warm), then pop out like popcorn and are on the run again to resume feeding. A few minutes of watching the little cottonball-like baby plovers can turn almost anyone into a “plover lover”. Beachgoers have been extremely accommodating in giving these endearing wee birds a bit of space.
The nest is protected by a roped off bit of beach. But once the chicks hatch they have only the adults to protect them. Both adults watch over the chicks and “pipe” their warning notes to alert of potential dangers. Avian predators such as gulls, crows and Merlin (a falcon) are a constant threat. At night fox, racoons and other creatures of the dark can prey on the adults as well as the chicks. Small pieces of driftwood on the beach can offer shelter and camouflage during the four weeks it takes for the chicks to fledge (fly).
Volunteers are also on hand to educate people about the Piping Plover Recovery Program and about the birds themselves. Each plover is identified with some colourful bracelets or bands, and almost every plover has a personal story of adventure, challenges, losses and successes. Drop by to get to know these charismatic little birds that share our shore!