Brendan Clifford: (603) 271-0463
Wildlife Division (603) 271-2461
May 26, 2022
Concord, NH – The public is being asked to again help protect endangered piping plovers on Granite State beaches because the nesting season for these rare birds is underway along the sandy shores of Hampton and Seabrook. Piping plovers are endangered in New Hampshire and threatened nationally. Their breeding habitat on New Hampshire’s beaches is now fenced with yellow roping to indicate the birds’ presence to beachgoers and to allow the mating pairs space to nest and raise their young.
“Currently we have thirteen active nests on Hampton and Seabrook Beaches, and at least two additional pairs are displaying nesting behavior but have yet to lay their first egg,” said Brendan Clifford a biologist with NH Fish and Game’s Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program who oversees the piping plover protection effort. The first eggs are anticipated to hatch in Hampton this weekend while most others are predicted to hatch in early-mid June. Last year, a record of thirteen pairs of piping plover nested in New Hampshire. This increase may be because the birds have expanded their nesting range to the busier sections of the beach as a result of beach closures during the onset of the COVID pandemic in 2020 when the plovers were able to nest without disturbance.
Each year the breeding habitat for piping plovers is roped off to protect nests from being stepped on or disturbed. Adult plovers will share the parental incubation duties for about 4 weeks until the eggs hatch. However, upon hatching, the chicks do not stay in the nest like many other birds. Rather, the chicks are fully mobile within a few hours and are not restricted to the roped-off areas as they search for food.
“This is a critical time as the adult plovers shepherd their chicks to good feeding areas including the high-tide line where seaweed is deposited and beyond, closer to the water,” said Clifford. “During these first few weeks of life, the flightless cotton ball–sized chicks are extremely vulnerable to being run over by vehicles, scooped up by beach rakes, or trampled by unsuspecting beachgoers and their pets.”
Nongame Program biologists and trained volunteers monitor the chicks daily, especially during busy beach days to alert the public of their presence and provide educational outreach. Additionally, the logistics of beach management are coordinated with town and state park officials to prevent the disturbance or death of the chicks from utility vehicles or beach rakes. In some instances, sections of beach may be left ungroomed for protection and to leave a food source for the chicks.
At about 30 days, old the chicks are considered fledged and are able to fly away from danger. While beach restrictions are lifted in those sections where chicks have fledged, other sections may remain ungroomed to protect still unfledged chicks.
Protection of this endangered species is a cooperative effort of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, NH Fish and Game Department, NH Division of Parks and Recreation, the Town of Seabrook, the Town of Hampton, 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. Hampton Beach State Park and the Town of Seabrook both have restrictions regarding dogs on beaches during the summer. People should check the rules 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 begin to hatch in early June. Anyone interested in volunteering can contact Brendan Clifford of the NH Fish and Game Department at 603-271-0463.
Since 1997, when protection efforts began in New Hampshire, nesting piping plovers have fledged 213 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 from North Carolina to Eastern Canada continues to increase with more almost 2,300 breeding pairs documented in 2021.
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 efforts 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 young.
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.