The large population of breeding herring gulls and great black-backed gulls on South Monomoy Island, Cape Cod, Massachusetts has been thought to negatively affect the breeding success of the threatened piping plover. Following the Piping Plover Recovery Plan's call for gull colonies to be removed from piping plover breeding sites, in 1996, the USFWS conducted gull removal on part of South Monomoy Island. We determined relative gull abundance on South Monomoy Island from 1998-2000 by counting gulls within 100-m radius plots located on the shoreline. We quantified piping plover behavior and habitat use by conducting instantaneous and 5-minute behavioral observations. We quantified characteristics of piping plover nesting habitat by measuring characteristics along random transects. We measured gull abundance, beach width, and prey abundance, and then used logistic regression to determine what habitat characteristics influenced piping plover nesting area selection. We monitored piping plover reproductive success and population fluctuations on South Monomoy Island. Gull abundance in the gull-removal area was lower than gull abundance in the reference area throughout the piping plover breeding season. The difference in gull abundance between the areas did not affect piping plover behavior, nest success, chick survival, or productivity. We found that gull removal did not result in an increased piping plover population on the island. In both management areas, prenesting plovers preferred to forage in moist substrate habitats. Wide backshore and open vegetation habitats characterized nesting areas. Broods spent most of their time foraging and preferred moist substrate habitats when available. Plovers were not prevented from occupying more suitable habitat by large gulls. Fewer large gulls were observed near prenesting plovers, plover nests, and plover broods than near random plots. Fewer large gulls were observed in plover nesting areas than in unused areas when the nesting areas were defined by all area within 100-m or 500-m of a plover nest. We argue that this apparent spatial separation between piping plovers and large gulls is due to different habitat preferences among the species. We found that gull removal on South Monomoy Island did not result in increased piping plover reproductive success, and large gulls did not affect breeding piping plovers on South Monomoy Island from 1998-2000.
Additional publication details
Effects of herring gulls and great black-backed gulls on breeding piping plovers, South Monomoy Island, Massachusetts. Final Report