Distribution of Piping Plover on the Upper Texas Coast

Purpose/Objectives

The piping plover (Charadrius melodus) is a small, sand-colored shorebird species protected under the Endangered Species Act. Piping plovers breed in the mid-west and Atlantic coasts of North America and winter on the shores of the southern Atlantic coast and the Gulf of Mexico. Approximately half of the piping plover population winters on the shores of Texas, using sandy beaches, mudflats, and inlets for a source of food and shelter for two-thirds of their annual life cycle. Galveston Island and the surrounding Galveston Bay area are under immense pressure from coastal beachfront development and recreational use. These activities threaten piping plover feeding and roosting habitats, making the species vulnerable to further population decline. This study will help to identify threats and disturbances to the piping plover and will provide resource agencies with data needed to identify beach use and management practices that threaten piping plovers and aid them in their species conservation efforts.

The primary objectives of this study are (1) to determine the abundance and distribution of piping plovers along beaches and bays of the upper Texas coast; (2) identify anthropogenic factors affecting their distribution (e.g., human disturbance, beach raking, etc.); and (3) evaluate habitat quality by concurrently gathering data on plover density and collecting benthic samples and other physical habitat attributes at sites used by piping plovers.

Study Area

Follets Island, Galveston Island, and Bolivar Peninsula

Project Period

2012 – 2013

Description

Throughout the extent of the project, EIH research staff will survey beaches of Follets and Galveston Island once a week recording the location of piping plovers and physical attributes of the site. Alongside the surveys, benthic samples will be collected once a month at select locations. In the winter, EIH will assist Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries Program with monitoring individually marked piping plovers in the Galveston Bay area using radio telemetry.

Publications

Vale, K. 2016. Investigation of factors influencing piping plover distribution along the upper Texas coast. University of Houston-Clear Lake, Houston.

Newstead, D. and Vale, K. 2014. Protecting important shorebird habitat using piping plovers as an indicator species. Final Report to U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

EIH in Action

A banded and tagged piping plover, Bolivar Flats. Photo by Jennifer Wilson.
Kristen Vale, research assiciate, holds a tagged plover
Three piping plovers (background) with two semipalmated plovers on the mudflats of San Luis Pass
Seven piping plovers, camouflaged in tire tracks, roost on the beach on Follets Island.
Kristen Vale, research associate, uses a scope to record data on a piping plovers on Follets Island.
A piping plover feeds on the beach of Galveston Island, Texas
Capture nets are used to catch piping plovers on the beach
Kristen Vale, research associate, releases a tagged piping plover

Project Sponsors

Contact
  • Environmental Institute of Houston

    Phone: 281-283-3950
    Email: eih@uhcl.edu

    North Office Annex
    2700 Bay Area Blvd, Box 540
    Houston, TX 77058-1002

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