Brendan Clifford: (603) 271-2461
June 11, 2020
CONCORD, NH – If you’re heading to the beach this weekend or anytime this summer, watch for endangered piping plovers raising their young on Hampton and Seabrook beaches. The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department reports that four plover nests have hatched within the last week, and two more are expected to hatch by this weekend.
Piping plovers are listed as a federally threatened species along the Atlantic Coast, from North Carolina to Maine, and they are state endangered here in New Hampshire. Their breeding habitat has been fenced with yellow roping to indicate the birds’ presence to beachgoers and to allow the mating pairs adequate room to nest and raise their young.
“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 wildlife biologist with Fish and Game’s Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program who oversees the piping plover protection effort. This year there has been an increase in the number of plovers nesting on Hampton Beach, partly a result of the beaches being closed to the public in April and May. “We have some birds nesting on the main beach, further north than we’ve previously documented. It is going to take a coordinated effort between state and local officials and volunteers to monitor the nests and chicks once they’ve hatched,” Clifford explained.
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 are the most crucial because the chicks are very small, hard to see, and extremely vulnerable to natural predators and motorized vehicles on the beach. NH Fish and Game is working closely again this year with beach managers to coordinate beach raking and plover protection. Beach maintenance can happen in areas where chicks are not present, as long as it is coordinated in advance.
Some human activities can represent a major threat to the endangered birds as well. The chicks are not restricted to the fenced-off areas around the dunes, and the adults will often move them up and down the beach to different feeding areas, often located close to the tide line. The buff-colored chicks are extremely hard to see, so it is easy to unknowingly cause distress or even step on the chicks. Fish and Game plover monitors and volunteers regularly notify beachgoers where the chicks are present in an effort to reduce disturbance and allow them to feed.
Protection of this endangered species is a cooperative effort of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the NH Fish and Game Department, the NH Division of Natural and Cultural Resources, the Town of Hampton, the Town of Seabrook, volunteers, local residents, and beach visitors.
Beachgoers can make a big difference in whether or not piping plover chicks survive to fledgling age. Here’s how you can help:
- 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 cotton ball 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. The towns of Hampton and Seabrook both have restrictions regarding dogs on beaches during the summer. Dogs are not permitted on state beaches. People should check before bringing their dog on any public beach.
- Fill in holes – Holes in the sand are traps for the tiny chicks which 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 will be needed to help with monitoring once the plover chicks hatch in early June. Anyone interested in volunteering can contact Brendan Clifford of the NH Fish and Game Department at 603-271-0463.
From 1997, when protection efforts began in New Hampshire, through 2019, 133 nesting pairs of plovers have fledged 184 chicks on the state’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 at slightly below 2,000 pairs.
Thanks to more than 30 years of dedicated conservation efforts by many partners and the cooperation of beachgoers, the piping plover has more than doubled its population along the Atlantic Coast since it was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1986. Decades of effort by federal, state, town, and private landowners, organizations, and agencies at all levels of government have helped make significant progress in providing plovers with safe places to raise their families.
For more information on piping plovers in New Hampshire, visit www.wildnh.com/nongame/project-plover.html.
The piping plover protection effort is coordinated by Fish and Game’s Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program. Visit www.wildnh.com/nongame.