The piping plover is a bird so small and seemingly inconsequential that protecting it can be viewed, in some quarters, as a symbol of environmental overreach. But the sparrow-sized shore birds, which have orange beaks and legs, and black rings around their necks, are also a symbol of hope — that a species on the verge of extinction can return and regenerate if humans make small adjustments.
This summer, the increased numbers of piping plovers are causing some inconveniences: Some bathers have to navigate a 500-foot enclosure housing 18 of the rare birds to get to Revere Beach. Kiteboarders are banned from some beaches of the Cape Cod National Seashore, lest they interfere with the small creatures. And other beaches have some plover-related limits on off-road-vehicles, fishermen, and pets.
But all the patience is paying off. Though still protected by the Endangered Species Act, the piping plover is, nonetheless, multiplying. In 1986, there were only 135 breeding pairs in Massachusetts. Today, with the protection of fenced-off areas and the understanding of citizens, they are up to at least 560 pairs. Every year, they migrate 1,000 to 2,000 miles to get here. What’s it to us to give them an extra 500 feet?