Brendan Clifford: (603) 271-0463
Wildlife Division (603) 271-2461
June 16, 2023
Concord, NH – The public is being asked to again help protect endangered piping plovers on the Granite State’s coastline as chicks hatch along the sandy shores of Hampton and Seabrook Beaches. Piping plovers are state-endangered in New Hampshire and listed as federally threatened along the east coast range. 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. In total, just over 2,000 pairs of piping plovers make up the entire Atlantic population.
“Again this year we have seen another New Hampshire record with at least 15 nesting pairs located on Hampton and Seabrook Beaches, and at least one other additional pair that has been present but has not established a nest,” said Brendan Clifford, a biologist with NH Fish and Game’s Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program who oversees the piping plover protection effort. Last year, 14 pairs of plovers nested in the Granite State. The steady increase of nesting pairs each year may be a result of the recent successes—last year 28 chicks navigated the busy beaches making it to flight. It is possible that chicks may return to the beaches where they were born the following spring to nest if they survive their first fall migration to Florida and the Gulf Coast.
So far this season, five nests have hatched on Hampton Beach and one has hatched on Seabrook Beach producing a total of 21 chicks that range in age from 5–15 days old. “The chicks have really thrived so far this year,” said Clifford. “With the cool and wet weather that we’ve seen this spring, the chicks have had a great opportunity to forage all along the beach without having to navigate large crowds of beachgoers. The more uninhibited access they have to feed along the water’s edge the quicker they grow, which greatly increases their chances of survival.”
Each year the breeding habitat of piping plovers is roped off to protect nests from being stepped on or disturbed. Adult plovers will share parental incubation duties for about four weeks until the eggs hatch. Unlike many other birds, however, the chicks are fully mobile within a few hours and are in no way restricted to the roped-off areas as they search for food. The roped area of beach serves as a refuge for the birds, and adults will often shepherd their chicks to better feeding areas closer to the water, retreating back to the quieter space within the ropes as people near.
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 25–30 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 other unfledged chicks.
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 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 newly hatched chicks are about the size of a cotton ball and sand-colored, so they can be difficult to see with an untrained eye.
- 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 makes it a safer place for the chicks (and reduces the number of twisted ankles for unsuspecting beach-walkers!)
- Volunteer – Trained volunteers will be needed to help with monitoring the plover chicks, particularly as the beaches fill up toward the end of June. Anyone interested in volunteering can contact Brendan Clifford of the NH Fish and Game Department at 603-271-0463 or Brendan.J.Clifford@wildlife.nh.gov.
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.