Brendon Clifford, NHFG, (603) 419-9728
Jane Vachon, NHFG, (603) 271-3211
Marie Malin, Maine Audubon, (207) 781-2330, ext. 241
August 11, 2005
Two Orphaned Piping Plover Chicks from New Hampshire Released in Maine;
Endangered Shorebirds Killed by Feral Cats
CONCORD, N.H. -- Two endangered piping plover chicks orphaned in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire, were released this week at Scarborough Beach, Maine, by Maine Audubon, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department. The chicks were orphaned the day after they hatched in mid-July, when their male parent was killed by a feral cat and their female parent and a third chick died shortly afterwards from injuries inflicted by a cat. There is a feral cat feeding station near Hampton Beach.
"Cats in the wild present a danger to wildlife. In a fragile ecosystem with endangered birds like plovers, cats can have a disastrous impact on the population," said John Kanter, coordinator of N.H. Fish and Game's Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program.
The three orphaned chicks and their injured mother were brought by N.H. Fish and Game to the Center for Wildlife in York, Maine, the rehabilitation facility closest to the nesting site. The female and one chick died the first night; the two surviving chicks were taken to a rehabilitation specialist in Bridgton, Maine, where they were cared for until their release earlier this week.
"Biologists usually avoid keeping piping plover chicks in captivity because their best chance for survival is when they're reared by other piping plovers," said Jody Jones, coordinator of Maine Audubon's Piping Plover Recovery Project, "but this was a unique situation and we all felt the chicks deserved a second chance after losing both their parents."
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists chose Scarborough Beach as the release site since it is less crowded than New Hampshire sites and has several fledglings that may serve as "role models" for the orphaned chicks. When released, the two orphaned chicks were immediately joined by a Scarborough Beach plover chick and began feeding, preening and flying.
"We released the chicks in Maine in order to give them the best chance for survival. They can join other plovers in the area that will flock up and migrate together," said Brendan Clifford, Piping Plover Monitor for Fish and Game's Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program. "Without other piping plovers around, the chicks would not have been able to learn important natural behaviors before their journey south."
This has been a difficult year for piping plovers on the New Hampshire coast. Three pairs of plovers nested - two at Seabrook Beach and one at Hampton Beach. At Seabrook, four chicks hatched, but disappeared before fledging (learning to fly); the second pair's eggs did not hatch. The orphans released this week in Maine hatched from the single nest at Hampton Beach.
Last year, four pairs of piping plovers nested at Seabrook Town Beach and Hampton Beach State Park, fledging four chicks. In 2003, seven pairs of plovers fledged seven chicks. Since protection efforts began in 1996, more than 70 chicks have fledged from New Hampshire's seacoast.
Maine Audubon has worked for nearly 25 years to restore Maine's piping plover population, which has grown from 10 pairs when recovery efforts began in 1981 to 55 pairs in 2004. The organization brings together towns, landowners, volunteers and wildlife agencies to locate and monitor plover nests, erect fencing to protect nests and conduct outreach about the birds, which are threatened primarily by habitat loss, but also by dogs, cats and predators like gulls and crows.
After flying from their wintering grounds in the Gulf
of Mexico, each spring the small, buff-colored piping plovers nest on
sandy beaches from North Carolina to the Canadian Maritimes and lay four
eggs. After hatching, usually in June, the cotton-ball-sized chicks feed
on invertebrates in the intertidal zone until they are developed enough
to fly south in September.
For more information on piping plovers, visit http://plover.fws.gov.
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