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Allison Briggaman: (603) 271-0463
Jane Vachon: (603) 271-3211
July 21, 2004

Endangered Shorebirds Fledging on N.H. Seacoast

CONCORD, N.H. -- Piping plovers are keeping a toehold on New Hampshire's seacoast this year, with one chick already fledged from a nest on Seabrook Town Beach and three more chicks expected to fledge (begin to fly) from a nest on Hampton Beach State Park this week, according to John Kanter, coordinator of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department's Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program. The shorebirds are protected as a state-endangered and federally threatened species. In all, four pairs of piping plovers nested on New Hampshire's seacoast this season, fledging four chicks. In 2003, seven pairs of plovers fledged seven chicks.

Beach-goers may have noticed that sections of Seabrook and Hampton beaches were not raked during parts of June and July. Beaches are not mechanically raked when plover chicks are present, because the tiny chicks - only about the size of a cottonball - can't get out of the way of a beach rake. In addition, raking removes the wrack, or seaweed, that chicks depend on for food in their first month of life, before they can fly.

"We appreciate the public's cooperation, patience and understanding of the need to avoid beach raking during a critical time for the plovers," said Kanter. "By putting up with some seaweed on the beach, you're helping to give an endangered species a chance for survival."

At Seabrook Town Beach, two pairs of piping plovers nested this year. One pair hatched four chicks, but lost three when high tides washed over the dunes, burying the fencing around the nesting area under two feet of sand. The remaining chick from this nest survived -- the only chick to fledge from Seabrook Beach this year. The other nesting pair at Seabrook laid four eggs that they incubated, but then abandoned.

At Hampton Beach State Park, two pairs of piping plovers nested and seven chicks hatched. One pair hatched out four chicks, but one was lost during the first week. The remaining three chicks are going strong. They were four weeks old on July 18, and flew for the first time this week. A second pair of plovers nested at Hampton hatched out three chicks. Two were lost the first night, and the third succumbed a few days later, perhaps killed by feral cats or other predators, such as foxes, crows, gulls or dogs. They were in an area of heavier human traffic and some vehicle use, which also can affect their survival.

Protection efforts for piping plovers began in New Hampshire eight years ago. Each year, the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department monitors the plover nests with the help of dozens of volunteers who put up fencing around nest areas, watch over the nests and educate beachgoers about the birds.

Piping plovers are small shorebirds, about seven inches long with sand-colored plumage on their backs and crown and white underparts. They breed only in North America in three geographic regions: the Atlantic Coast, the Northern Great Plains and the Great Lakes. In recent decades, piping plover populations have drastically declined, as breeding habitat has been replaced with shoreline development and recreation. Plovers arrive in New Hampshire from mid-March through mid-May and remain until late July or late August each year. They lay 3 to 4 eggs in shallow, scraped depressions lined with light-colored pebbles and shell fragments. The eggs blend in extremely well with their surroundings. Both sexes incubate the eggs, which hatch within 30 days, and both adult plovers help care for the young until they can fly, about 30 days after hatching.

For more information on piping plovers, click here to visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife website.

Click here to find out more about New Hampshire Fish and Game's Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program, which protects piping plovers as well as many other endangered and threatened species and other wildlife not hunted, fished or trapped.

The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department is the guardian of the state's fish, wildlife and marine resources and their habitats.

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