CONCORD — The public is again being asked to help protect endangered birds on the state’s beaches. The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department reports that there are a record-setting thirteen pairs of piping plovers nesting along the sandy shores of Hampton and Seabrook Beaches. Piping plovers are endangered in New Hampshire and threatened nationally. Their breeding habitat has been delineated with yellow roping to demonstrate the birds’ presence to beachgoers and to allow the mating pairs enough space to nest and raise their young. This year marks the 25th anniversary of monitoring the piping plover population in New Hampshire by the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department.
“Our goal is to protect these rare birds during their breeding season and manage the beaches for both people and wildlife,” said Brendan Clifford, a biologist with NH Fish and Game’s Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program, who oversees the piping plover protection effort. “This year we are expecting the first nests to hatch in early June,” Clifford said.
Within just a few hours of hatching, piping plover chicks are able to walk and feed on their own. The first few weeks after hatching are the most crucial, because the chicks are very small and hard to see and extremely vulnerable to natural predators such as gulls, crows, foxes, and domestic animals, including cats and dogs.
Another threat is humans. “We have had occasional incidents where people have deliberately vandalized fencing meant to protect the birds and even stolen eggs right out of the nest,” Clifford said. “We are continuing to educate people in hopes of minimizing instances of human disturbance.” The birds are typically able to fly at 25-30 days at which time they are considered fledged.
NH 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 NH Fish and Game and does not pose a threat to the piping plovers.
Protection of this endangered species is a cooperative effort of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, NH Fish and Game Department, 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 chicks are about the size of a cotton ball 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 which 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 in early June. Anyone interested in volunteering can contact Brendan Clifford of the NH Fish and Game Department at 603-271-0463.
From 1997, when protection efforts began in New Hampshire, through 2020, 145 nesting pairs of plovers have fledged 184 chicks on the state’s seacoast. New Hampshire’s efforts are part of a region-wide protection program; overall, the Atlantic coast population of piping plovers is currently indexed at slightly below 2,000 pairs.
Thanks to the dedicated conservation efforts of 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 contributed to significant progress in providing plovers with safe places to raise their families.
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.