Brendan Clifford: (603) 271-2461
June 15, 2021
Concord, NH – Officials from the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, New Hampshire State Parks, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Town of Hampton, NH, have collaborated to develop a strategy focused on protecting the state endangered and federally threatened piping plover on Hampton Beach. Piping plovers have nested in one of the most popular areas of the beach, and with large crowds of beachgoers expected this summer, state, federal, and local officials have been working in partnership to ensure that the birds will have enough space to incubate their eggs and raise their young.
So far this year, a record thirteen pairs of piping plovers have nested on Hampton and Seabrook Beaches, and as of June 14, seven nests had hatched with chicks ranging in age from 3 to 12 days old. The chicks are fully mobile within a few hours and search for their own food almost immediately; however, it is not until they are about 4 weeks old that they can fly to escape from danger.
The summer’s scheduled fireworks displays have become a point of discussion among officials involved in the protection efforts. “A few of the bird’s nests are extremely vulnerable to disturbance from the fireworks because of their close proximity to the launch locations on the beach,” said Brendan Clifford, a biologist with Fish and Game’s Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program. “We have been working on strategies to reduce disturbance to the plovers including alternative launch locations and preventing large crowds from getting too close to nests.”
Piping plovers must continually incubate their eggs to successfully hatch chicks. The thunderous booms of nearby fireworks may flush and disorient the nesting adults and cause nest abandonment. Additionally, piping plover adults that have hatched their chicks may become separated from their young if fireworks are displayed are too close to their habitat.
Based on nest locations, when chicks are predicted to hatch, and recommendations from NH Fish and Game and US Fish and Wildlife Service, the town of Hampton has decided to cancel the first two planned fireworks events to avoid disturbing the current nests. This is an increasingly common accommodation in many municipalities along the East Coast during the piping plover’s nesting period. For the piping plovers on Hampton Beach it is expected that once the chicks hatch, the adults will shepherd them to areas of the beach that have lower human densities—and away from the fireworks areas.
“It’s important to note that firework’s displays are only one of the many threats the plovers face while raising their young on popular recreational beaches,” said Clifford. “Through the mobilization of staff and dedicated volunteers, we try to inform the public about the presence of the birds and ways to avoid disturbing them.” The chicks will walk along the beach and to the shoreline in search of sand flies and marine invertebrates. Beachgoers on Hampton and Seabrook Beaches should watch for the birds and allow them ample space to feed. “It is particularly important for the public to respect the protected areas which serve as a refuge for the birds while the chicks are at their most vulnerable stage of development,” said Clifford. These areas are visible with yellow rope and signage explaining the need for the protection.
Protection of this endangered species in New Hampshire is a cooperative effort of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, the New Hampshire Division of Natural and Cultural Resources, the Town of Hampton, the Town of Seabrook, volunteers, local residents, and beach visitors.
The piping plover protection effort is coordinated by Fish and Game’s Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program. Visit www.wildnh.com/nongame.
Intentional disturbance or harm of piping plovers can be anonymously reported by contacting New Hampshire Operation Game Thief at (800) 344-4262 or at www.nhogt.org.