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The Trustees of Reservations Shorebird Protection Program

Black Skimmers at Norton Point  © Craig Gibson

For more than 25 years, The Trustees of Reservations (The Trustees) have been managing its coastal beaches for wildlife and visitor enjoyment. Rare and declining shorebirds – terns, sandpipers and plovers – have been at the center of this work. With more than 26 miles of coastal beaches and extensive intertidal habitats (e.g., salt marsh and mud flats) under its care The Trustees are well positioned to have a positive impact on the protection and recovery of coastal shorebirds in Massachusetts.

Our coastal properties are some of the most stunning examples of barrier beaches in the region and include Crane Beach (Ipswich), Coskata Coatue Wildlife Refuge (Nantucket), and collectively the beaches on Martha’s Vineyard (Norton Point Beach, Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge and Wasque Reservation).  Although shorebirds remain the focus of our protection efforts many other species and habitats benefit from this stewardship including rare plants, invertebrates, and other bird species.  Equally important, it is the health of these natural landscapes that provides unparalleled recreational opportunities for thousands of visitors annually seeking a high quality experience in nature whether it is through participating in one of the many natural history tours offered by The Trustees, fishing, swimming or walking along the beach in solitude. Finally, by managing for coastal habitat The Trustees is helping to ensure these dynamic landscapes are resilient to the affects of climate change – healthy, naturally functioning beach and dune habitats are more able to withstand rising sea levels and storm impacts.

Nesting Species
Species protected by The Trustees included federally-listed and state-listed species as well as species identified as needing protection due to declining or vulnerable populations – collectively referred to as rare. While rare species are a priority The Trustees are concerned with ensuring healthy populations and habitats for all species under its care. The table below defines the federal and state protection status of shorebirds being managed by The Trustees. Federally listed species are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act and state-listed species are protected by the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act (MESA).  Additional protection is provided by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Common Name Scientific Name Status
piping plover  Charadrius melodus federally Threatened, state Threatened
common tern Sterna hirundo state Special Concern
least tern Sterna antillarum state Special Concern
roseate tern Sterna dougallii federally Endangered, state Endangered
American oystercatchers Haematopus palliatus state Species of Greatest Conservation Need
black skimmers Rynchops niger fewer than 10 breeding pairs in MA annually

Our goal is to protect and restore populations of both breeding and migratory shorebird species populations while continuing to provide recreational access.  Protection strategies for species nesting on our beaches are based on guidelines developed and distributed by the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, Guidelines for Managing Recreational Use of Beaches to Protect Piping Plovers, Terns, and Their Habitats in Massachusetts that protect suitable breeding habitat, restrict pets and over-sand vehicles during the breeding season, protect nests and chicks from human disturbance and predation using fencing and exclosures (wire cages that prevent predators from eating the eggs), selective predator control and communication between The Trustees and government agencies and other conservation groups. Daily monitoring allows The Trustees to track the status of each pair or colony and provide updates regarding beach restrictions for visitors.   Under this program the rare and common bird species dependent upon our beaches continued to prosper.

If you visit our beaches during the spring and summer please,

  • respect fenced areas by staying out of these areas
  • do not approach nest exclosures – this will stress the birds
  • adhere to the dog rules – typically dogs are prohibited from April 1 to September 15
  • do not fly kites between April 15 and September 1 as the birds mistake kites for hawks and become stressed
  • carry out all trash including fruit peels, nutshells, and fish remains – these attract predators
  • respect speed limits if the beach is open to vehicles
  • stay out of the dunes
  • call ahead or visit our Island’s Facebook page for current information on closures

Today, with growing threats from ever increasing numbers of predators, coastal storms that erode beach habitat or flood nests and increasing recreational needs, The Trustees continue to play a critical role in maintaining healthy, recovering populations of rare shorebirds along the Massachusetts coast. If you are interested in supporting our shorebird protection work please consider a donation. 

Migrating Species
The Trustees also protect migrating shorebirds due to the strategic importance of these properties as staging areas – places where shorebirds can rest and refuel between long-distance flights of their migration.  Frequent disturbance from beach walkers, pets and over sand vehicles can cause migrating shorebirds to deplete valuable energy leading to their failure to gain enough fat reserves to successfully migrate. Crane Beach, where more than 20,000 sandpipers and plovers gather annually to rest and refuel before migrating to their wintering areas in the deep south and South America is especially important. Crane Beach, along with five other Trustees properties, are part of the Great Marsh, a designated site of regional importance by the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network, an international program that identifies sites critical to migrating shorebirds throughout the western hemisphere.  For more information on WHSRN visit

To aid the birds in completing a successful migration, The Trustees initiated a first-of-its-kind protection and awareness program in Massachusetts.  This program relies on volunteers positioned at designated Migratory Shorebird Zones when visitor use and shorebird impacts are the greatest.  Volunteers interact with the public in an informal way to protect the birds and educate visitors about the importance of the beach as a resting and feeding area. This program is described in more detail on The Trustees’ website here.

Statewide Ecology Program
Through excellent stewardship practices and collaboration with partners, The Trustees Ecology Program works to maintain healthy habitats, landscapes and populations of plants and wildlife throughout our more than 100 properties in Massachusetts. The key strategies are based on nurturing natural habitats and landscapes that can withstand or adapt to threats and connecting many more people to nature and inspiring them to act for conservation.  

Primary focus areas include protecting coastal shorebird populations, controlling and preventing invasives species, increasing public awareness of threats and preventative measures, restoration of degraded and declining habitats and species (e.g., grassland nesting birds), protection of more than 130 federal- and state-listed rare species, reducing our ecological footprint through programs such as reducing our lawn mowing, enhancing environmental services such as pollination, and preventing visitor impacts to sensitive resources.

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© 2019 The Trustees of Reservations
The Trustees is a 501c3 nonprofit organization
Est. 1891