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CONTACT:
Brendan Clifford: (603) 271-0463
Toni Weidman: (603) 419-9728
Jane Vachon: (603) 271-3211
May 23, 2011

Piping Plover
Piping Plover chick. Eva Powers photo. MEDIA: For hi-res. photo click on image above - Large, slow file.

Endangered Piping Plovers Present on N.H. Beaches this Memorial Day Weekend

CONCORD, N.H. -- The breeding season for the state-endangered and federally threatened piping plover shorebirds is underway on New Hampshire beaches. Beach-goers are asked to be aware that plovers are present this upcoming Memorial Day weekend and take caution to protect them now and throughout the summer months.

“Currently there are five pairs of piping plovers present on N.H. beaches; two at Hampton Beach State Park and three at Seabrook Beach,” said Brendan Clifford, a biologist with the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department’s Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program. “Two of the three pairs at Seabrook have established nests so far.  The other pairs have all been observed defending breeding territories, performing courtship and making nest scrapes – indicating they could begin laying eggs any day.”

One pair in Seabrook nested in late April and is incubating a nest with four eggs. “We expect these chicks to hatch on, or just before, Memorial Day weekend,” said Clifford. The other pair laid their first egg on May 19 so we will not expect hatching for this nest until toward the end of June.  

“Our goal is to get the birds to nest, the chicks to hatch and be able to fly as soon as possible each spring. It’s best for everyone all around, the public has more space to enjoy the beach and the chicks are bigger and stronger to fly south at the end of summer,” said Susi von Oettingen, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Within just a few hours of hatching, piping plover chicks are able to walk and feed on their own. However, they cannot fly until they are about a month old, and they are very small and hard to see. “The chicks are extremely vulnerable during this time, so Fish and Game staff and volunteers will be keeping close watch over the hatchlings until they fledge,” Clifford noted.

These birds have a number of natural predators such as gulls, crows, skunks and foxes. Cats and dogs are added threats, but people are possibly the biggest threat of all. “Last year someone crushed wire fencing placed around a nest to protect it and stole all four piping plover eggs that were in the nest. Sadly, this is not the first incident of people taking, harming, or harassing these endangered birds or their eggs,” said Clifford. Because of this, state and federal officials are on heightened alert this upcoming season.

N.H. Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ask that everyone visiting New Hampshire beaches where piping plovers are nesting to respect fenced-off areas to allow the birds space to perform courtship, nest and raise their young during the busy summer months. Officials also want to remind people that piping plovers are protected by both state and federal endangered species laws. If found guilty of harming, harassing or taking a piping plover or one of its eggs, a person may be sentenced up to 6 months in prison and/or fined up to $25,000.

Beachgoers can follow a few small steps that will make a big difference in whether or not piping plover chicks survive to fledgling age:

  • Watch where you step – The chick’s defense mechanism is to freeze when people get close, which makes them difficult to see. The chicks are about the size of a cottonball 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 before bringing their dog on any public beach.

  • Fill in holes – holes in the sand are traps for the tiny chicks that 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 around Memorial Day. Anyone interested in volunteering can contact the N.H. Fish and Game Piping Plover Monitor at 603-419-9728.

N.H. Fish and Game is working closely again this year with beach managers to coordinate beach raking and plover protection. Beach maintenance may occur, as long as it is coordinated in advance with N.H. Fish and Game and does not pose a threat to the piping plovers.

Regular updates on the piping plover breeding season can be found on the piping plover project page of the N.H. Fish and Game website at www.wildnh.com/Wildlife/Nongame/projects/plover_project.html.

Since protection efforts began in 1997, a total of 89 piping plover chicks have fledged from New Hampshire’s seacoast.  New Hampshire’s efforts are part of a region-wide protection program; overall, the Atlantic coast population of piping plovers continues to hold steady.

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

For more information on piping plovers, visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife website at plover.fws.gov.

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