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The Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) reminds visitors to some popular reservoirs in southeast Colorado to be mindful of beach areas closed to protect endangered birds.

Once again this year, sections of shoreline at John Martin Reservoir and Adobe Creek (Blue Lake) are closed to protect Piping Plovers and Least Terns nest sites. Portions of the shorelines at Neenoshe, Neegronda and Queens Reservoirs might also be affected.

“The birds started arriving in April,” said Steve Keefer of the DOW. “People should look for the signs and markers indicating which sections of shoreline are closed. Nest locations and conditions vary from year to year, so people should be aware that closure boundaries might include different portions of the reservoirs from previous years.”

Keefer said the size of the closed areas vary from site to site. Signs are posted every 50-to-75 feet along the shore to mark the closure areas. In addition, buoy lines are setup in the water. The signposts on shore have orange twine and flagging tape strung between posts.

In spite of the closures, most of the area around these reservoirs remains open to normal activities. People are encouraged to go to the reservoirs and enjoy the water, keeping in mind that small portions will be marked as closed.

Least terns and piping plovers are protected by the Federal Endangered Species Act. Least terns are on the endangered species list and piping plovers are on the threatened species list.

Only a handful of least terns and piping plovers nest in Colorado, so wildlife officials are concerned that any disruptions will have a negative impact on the already fragile population.

Terns and plovers are ground nesters. They build simple nests on broad, sandy beaches. The nests are sometimes no more than scratches in the sand lined with a few pebbles or twigs. This can make them especially vulnerable to dogs.

“Folks should be aware that dogs are not allowed to run at large since they are capable of destroying eggs which could result in the owner getting fined,” said Keefer.

The closures are temporary until the young birds are fledged. The closures can last 8-to-12 weeks or more, depending on the nesting cycles of the birds.

“With the summer fishing and camping season approaching, we want people to know that they should not enter the closed areas until after the birds have completed their nesting activities and the closure signs are removed,” said Keefer.

Protection of these birds is a cooperative effort between both state and federal agencies. The public is encouraged to report suspicious activity or violations to any agency personnel around the reservoirs or call one of the following numbers. For violations at lakes other than John Martin call the DOW or the sheriff’s office in county of violation.

Contact numbers at John Martin Reservoir: DOW - 719-336-6600; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - 719-336-3476; John Martin State Park - 719-829-1801.


Scientific name: Sterna antillarum

Status: Endangered

Terns are closely related to gulls, but are generally smaller and more graceful flyers. Terns have tapered, pointed wings and deep forked tails.

The least tern is the smallest of the North American terns. Least terns are approximately nine inches long with a wingspan of about 20 inches.

During the breeding season, the adults are light gray on the upper parts, white underneath, with a black crown above the eyes and a white mark on the forehead. The legs and bill are yellow with the bill noticeably black at the tip. Unlike most other terns, the forked tail is relatively short.

When feeding, the least tern dives from as high as 20 feet into the water to capture small fish.

The least tern has bred in southeastern Colorado, generally in the La Junta and Lamar areas. The preferred nesting habitat is on sandy or pebbly beaches, well above the water line, around lakes and reservoirs or on sandy soil sandbars in river channels. Two eggs are normally deposited in a shallow “scrape,” their coloration providing excellent camouflage.

During the 1800s, the eastern coastal population of least terns was dramatically reduced as this bird was killed for its wings and feathers for the millinery trade. The population rebounded after receiving protection.

Now, the population is declining because of disturbance during the nesting season. Human recreational activity along beaches will cause these birds to abandon nesting activities, even after eggs have been laid. Another cause of nesting disruption is extreme water fluctuations during the nesting season in manmade lakes.

The least tern is one of three varieties of terns found in Colorado. The others are the black tern and Forester’s terns.



Scientific name: Charadrius melodus

Status: Threatened

Plovers belong to a group of birds commonly referred to as shorebirds. Most members of this group are normally found inhabiting beaches, lakeshores, marshes and other wetland areas.

About 7 ¼ inches in length, this plover is often described as being the color of dry beach sand, a pale gray-brown. When in its breeding plumage – most likely to be seen in Colorado – it has bright orange legs, a black breastband that may or may not go completely across the breast, a black bar across the forehead from eye to eye, and a bill that is bright orange at the base with a black tip.

Historically, piping plovers are found in Colorado as migrants, arriving around the first of April. Most pass through by the end of May. They generally reappear about the beginning of August and are gone by October.

During the past few decades, piping plovers began colonizing some of the reservoirs in the southeast corner of Colorado. Nesting habitat in Colorado is on sandy beaches or sandbars within riverbeds, or even sandy wetland pastures. An important aspect of this habitat is that of sparse vegetation.

The plover depends on its coloration for camouflage and protection. Incubation periods are fairly long (21-to-30 days). The long incubation allows for additional development. Newly hatched chicks are covered with down and able to move about within hours of hatching.

Newborn piping plovers have a relatively low metabolism that requires parent birds to brood them frequently during the first few weeks until they are able to maintain their own body temperature.

John Martin Reservoir and Adobe Creek (Blue Lake) are the primary nesting locations used by piping plovers in Colorado.

The piping plover is one of three small plovers found in Colorado. The others are the snowy plover and the mountain plover.

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