CONCORD — Beachgoers should stay clear of the three pairs of piping plovers raising chicks on Hampton and Seabrook beaches, according to state Fish and Game officials.
Piping plovers are endangered in the Granite State and threatened nationally. Their breeding habitat is fenced with yellow roping to indicate the birds’ presence to beachgoers and to allow mating pairs space to nest and raise their young.
“Every summer, we work with town and state officials to establish safe areas for the birds where they will not be disturbed by recreational activities,” said Brendan Clifford, a biologist with the Fish and Game’s Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program, which oversees the piping plover protection effort.
“The sooner the birds nest, the sooner the chicks will hatch and grow big enough to be able to fly. Once the chicks are 25-30 days old, they can fly and escape from danger, and we can take down the fences that protect their breeding habitat and open up the whole beach for recreational use,” said Clifford.
Within 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 small, hard to see and extremely vulnerable to natural predators, such as gulls, crows, foxes and domestic animals, including cats and dogs. In Seabrook, the remaining chicks are about 3 weeks old, while the chicks in Hampton are just over a week old.
Fish and Game personnel cannot monitor the birds 24 hours a day, so they rely on volunteers to keep watch over the birds and activities taking place on the beaches.
Since protection efforts began in 1997 through 2013, 83 nesting pairs of plovers have fledged 113 chicks on New Hampshire’s seacoast. The state’s efforts are part of a regionwide 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, state Fish and Game, N.H. Division of Parks and Recreation, the towns of Seabrook and Hampton, volunteers, local residents and beach visitors.
Beachgoers can make a big difference helping piping plover chicks survive to fledgling age by:
• 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.
• Leashing dogs — free-running dogs can accidentally step on and crush eggs and chase after the chicks and adult plovers. Hampton Beach State Park and Seabrook have restrictions regarding dogs on beaches during the summer. People should check before bringing their dog on any public beach.
• Filling 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.
• Volunteering — anyone interested in volunteering to monitor the plover chicks should call the Fish and Game piping plover monitor at 419-9728.