CONCORD — It was another record summer for the state-endangered and federally threatened piping plovers on New Hampshire’s Hampton and Seabrook beaches. This season, five pairs nested on Hampton Beach with ten chicks fledged (25+ days old), while on Seabrook Beach six pairs of plovers also fledged ten chicks. The eleven total pairs and twenty fledged chicks surpassed last year’s record of nine pairs and seventeen chicks fledged, respectively.
As soon as piping plovers return to the beaches in April, NH Fish and Game Department biologists fence off the nesting areas with yellow rope and erect signs alerting people to stay clear. When the chicks are 25-30 days old, capable of flying and eluding danger, the fence is removed, opening that section of beach for recreational use again.
Piping plover chicks are able to walk and feed on their own soon after hatching. The newborn chicks are very small – about the size of a cotton ball – and similar in coloration to sand, making them vulnerable to predation by gulls, crows, foxes, cats, dogs, or to being stepped on by humans. Raising awareness among beachgoers on how they can help protect the plovers is crucial to their nesting success.
The upward trend of plovers returning to New Hampshire beaches may be attributable to the high fledgling success in recent years. “Birds that are born in New Hampshire have a good chance of returning to their natal beaches after spending the winter on the Florida coast or the Caribbean,” said Brendan Clifford, a biologist with the Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program.
The hatching this year was staggered from June through the end of July. “Despite the later hatching of some nests and busier beaches in July and August, many chicks were still successful in negotiating the human traffic to make it to fledging,” Clifford said.
Beachgoers can help protect plovers by leashing dogs, filling in holes in the sand where small chicks may become trapped, picking up trash and food on the beach that attracts gulls and crows, flying kites at least 200 yards away from plover areas, and respecting signs and fencing near nesting birds.
Conservation efforts by many partners and the cooperation of beachgoers have helped the piping plover population reach almost 2,000 pairs along the coast from North Carolina to Canada since the bird was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1986.
To learn more about New Hampshire’s Piping Plover Project, visit www.wildnh.com/nongame/project-plover.html.