Most migrant shorebirds require coastal and estuarine habitat in the nonbreeding season and their overwinter survival is contingent upon the composition and quality of these winter sites. The purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship between the distribution and abundance of the piping plover, a federally threatened and endangered shorebird, and its nonbreeding habitat along the Gulf of Mexico coastline. We identified sites consistently used by wintering piping plovers and quantified landscape and anthropogenic features within a subset of those locations. Using published literature, we documented that piping plovers consistently winter at 49 locations on the U.S. Gulf of Mexico coast (Marco Island, Florida to Padre Island, Texas). At 31 sites, we conducted a remote analysis of aerial photos for 11 features (e.g., intertidal area, urban area, beach). Linear regression was used to test correlations between plover abundance and landscape characteristics. We found that certain shoreline features (e.g., landform, intertidal area, total area) and measures of urbanization (e.g., urban area, length of roads) were significantly correlated, positively and negatively, respectively, with piping plover abundance across the Gulf of Mexico coastline. This information is critical to prevent or mitigate negative impacts of urbanization and subsequent coastal landscape change on shorebird populations.
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Vol. 2008 • No. 243