Be aware of endangered birds on the beaches this weekend and beyond as the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department reports there are six pairs of plovers incubating eggs or watching over chicks on sandy shores of Hampton and Seabrook. Piping plovers are endangered in New Hampshire and threatened nationally. Their breeding habitat is fenced with symbolic yellow roping and signs to indicate the birds’ presence to beach-goers and to allow the mating pairs space to nest and raise their young.
So far, this season has been a difficult one for the birds, with seven nests having been lost due to high tides, predation or human disturbance. Two nests were able to escape the high tides, and there are currently two chicks in Seabrook and a lone chick in Hampton. Four other pairs are currently incubating eggs or in the process of re-nesting.
“Our goal is to protect these rare birds during their breeding season and manage the beaches for both people and wildlife,” said Brendan Clifford, a biologist with the Fish and Game’s Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program who oversees the piping plover protection effort. “However, because some pairs are on their second or third nest attempt, the symbolic fencing will need to remain in some areas through July and into early August.”
N.H. Fish and Game is working closely again this year with beach managers to coordinate beach raking and plover protection. Beach maintenance may occur, as long as it is coordinated in advance with N.H. Fish and Game and does not pose a threat to the piping plover nests or chicks.
Within just a few hours of hatching, piping plover chicks are able to walk and feed on their own. The first few weeks after hatching is the most crucial time, because although highly mobile, the chicks cannot fly and are difficult to see. During this period, they are vulnerable to natural predators such as gulls, crows, foxes and domestic animals including cats and dogs. People are possibly the biggest threat of all, however.
“Sadly, there have been incidences over the past few years where people have deliberately vandalized fencing meant to protect the birds and even stolen eggs right out of the nest,” Clifford said. Although Fish and Game Conservation Officers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agents have been involved in the monitoring effort, volunteers are critical to keep watch over the birds and activities taking place on the beaches.
Since protection efforts began in 1997, a total of 89 piping plover chicks have fledged from New Hampshire’s seacoast. New Hampshire’s efforts are part of a region-wide protection program; overall, the Atlantic coast population of piping plovers continues to hold steady.
Beachgoers can make a big difference in whether or not piping plover chicks survive to fledgling age:
- Watch where you step – A plover chick’s defense mechanism is to freeze when people get close, which makes it difficult to see. The chicks are about the size of a cottonball and light colored, so they blend in with the sand.
- Leash your dog – Free-running dogs can accidentally step on and crush eggs and chase after the chicks and adult plovers. Hampton Beach State Park and the Town of Seabrook both have restrictions regarding dogs on beaches during the summer. People should check before bringing their dog on any public beach.
- Keep cats indoors – Domestic and feral cats may pose the highest threat to the survival of plover chicks. By keeping your cats indoors, you can not only help protect several bird species, you can protect your cats from potential predators such as foxes and coyotes.
- Fill in holes – Holes in the sand are traps for the tiny chicks that can’t fly. Filling in any holes on the beach helps the chicks move about and find the food they need to grow strong and be able to fly.
- Volunteer! – Volunteers are needed to help with monitoring. Anyone interested in volunteering can contact the N.H. Fish and Game Department Piping Plover Monitor at 603-419-9728.
Protection of this endangered species is a cooperative effort of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, N.H. Fish and Game Department, N.H. Division of Parks and Recreation, the Town of Seabrook, the Town of Hampton, volunteers, local residents and beach visitors. For more information on piping plovers in New Hampshire, click here.