CONTACT:
Emily Brunkhurst, (603) 271-2461
Jane Vachon, (603) 271-3211
July 5, 2006

Federally Threatened Piping Plover Chicks Hatch at Seabrook Beach

CONCORD, N.H. -- A clutch of federally threatened piping plover chicks hatched July 3 at Seabrook Town Beach, and the four chicks are under heavy surveillance by volunteers and monitors to ensure their safety and survival.

"This is an exciting development," said Emily Brunkhurst, a conservation biologist with the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department's Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program. "These birds have come back from the brink because of the efforts of monitors and beachgoers. Helping to protect these chicks is a rare opportunity for people to do something that can actually help save a threatened species."

With the arrival of the plover chicks at Seabrook, and one additional nesting pair of plovers at Hampton Beach State Park, Fish and Game urges beachgoers to be careful and attentive during this vacation season. "It's important for people to be aware that these birds and chicks are on our beaches. We just want them to be respectful of signs and marked areas for the plovers' protection," said Nongame Program piping plover monitor Kristen Murphy.

Piping plovers are small shorebirds that are sand-colored on top and white underneath. They can be distinguished from other shorebirds by a black band across the forehead, a black band around the neck and bright orange legs. The tiny chicks look like cottonballs on toothpick legs.

Plovers are extremely vulnerable to predators and human and natural disturbances. They lay their eggs directly on the beach, without any fortified protection. During the last few breeding seasons, feral cats and high tides have destroyed several New Hampshire nests. Beachgoers, especially those with dogs, can endanger the nest's success by stepping on eggs or disrupting mating couples. Motorized vehicles, such as OHRVs or beachgroomers, also jeopardize plover breeding success through habitat, food, or egg destruction.

There have been a total of 3 nesting pairs of piping plovers recorded this year along the New Hampshire seacoast. The first pair settled in Hampton Beach State Park and laid 4 eggs in early May. By May 30, 3 of the eggs were missing, with cat, raccoon and gull prints noted in the sand nearby. The remaining egg hatched on June 12. Unfortunately, four days later the chick was missing, with no evidence to indicate what had happened. These adults, seen off and on during the last month, are not expected to nest again this year.

After the success of this latest hatch at Seabrook Beach, biologists are hoping the final plover pair, now in its third nesting attempt this season, will produce chicks as well. The last pair is at Hampton Beach State Park. This pair's first nesting attempt failed when the single egg was crushed. A second clutch of four eggs was buried by storm activity. Their third nest is tucked further in the dunes and a hatch is expected mid-July. "Since our only chicks last year were orphaned and raised in captivity, we couldn't count them in nest productivity. That makes it all the more important that this year's nesting pairs are successful," said Murphy.

To protect the piping plovers, Nongame Program staff and volunteers have fenced off areas close to the nesting pairs and put up signs. A predator exclosure protects the nest. This cage allows piping plovers to move freely while keeping possible predators out. Beach raking or mechanical beach cleaning has also been temporarily stopped, because the chicks feed off small invertebrates that occur in the wrack line.

The success of the piping plovers depends on public cooperation. "Even with full support from volunteers and a full-time monitor, we can't watch the plovers and nests at all times. We need support from the public to help them survive," says Murphy.

Here is how you can help:

  • Respect signs and fences around nesting areas.
  • Be a responsible pet owner. Walk dogs in areas where piping plovers are not present and keep cats indoors. Dogs can chase plovers and step on eggs and chicks, killing them. Cats - even well fed ones -- are a major predator of many types of birds, including piping plovers.
  • Fill in holes on the beach. Piping plover chicks can fall in and become trapped.
  • Fly kites a safe distance away from plovers.
  • Don't approach or linger near piping plovers or their nests.
  • Teach children safe viewing and respect for wildlife.
  • Obey local fireworks laws. Fireworks stress adult piping plovers and their chicks and can cause accidental fires that destroy dune vegetation.
  • Pick up trash and food on the beach. Garbage attracts predators, such as gulls and crows, which prey on plover eggs, chicks and sometimes adults.
  • Report observations. Report unlawful fireworks, off-leash dogs or fencing vandalism to your local police department.
  • Volunteer! If you enjoy watching birds and want to help protect the piping plovers, call New Hampshire Fish and Game at (603) 271-2461.

Protection efforts will not stop when all the eggs have hatched. Plover chicks can walk and eat within hours after hatching, but are unable to fly for the first 30 days of life, making them extremely vulnerable. During the course of the summer, chicks must eat and grow as quickly as possible without disturbance to gain energy to survive the southward migration.

A federally threatened and state-endangered species, piping plovers have been the focus of a massive region-wide effort. N.H. Fish and Game's Nongame Program has provided protection and monitoring for this rare bird since 1996. In the past 3 years, an average of 2-7 nesting pairs have returned to the New Hampshire seacoast, producing a total of 11 fledged chicks. Since the monitoring began, 74 chicks have successfully fledged in New Hampshire.

Protection of this endangered species in New Hampshire is a cooperative effort of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, N.H. Fish and Game, N.H. Parks and Recreation, the Town of Seabrook, the Town of Hampton, volunteers, local residents and beach visitors.

Learn more about piping plovers at plover.fws.gov.

For more on Fish and Game's Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program, click here.

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