They’re off! An extra early start to ‘hoodie’ breeding season
It’s usually mid-to-late August when hooded plovers pair up but this year it’s happened earlier than ever before with the first two nests being laid on the metropolitan Adelaide coast in late July at North Brighton and West Beach.
Hooded plovers are one of Australia’s top 20 threatened birds and there is estimated to be fewer than 800 birds in South Australia. They are resident beach-nesting birds meaning they live on our beaches all year round (unlike their migratory cousins).
Where do hoodies go in winter?
Hooded plovers are resident species and live on the beaches year-round. During the winter months, hoodies group together in a process called flocking where up to 15 or more birds gather together, usually near rocky reef and estuary habitats where the food is plentiful.
By mid-to-late August the birds have separated across our sandy ocean beaches to pair up and establish a suitable breeding territory. They will have multiple nesting attempts throughout the season until March the following year.
The challenges of beach nesting
Eggs are laid in a nest that is little more than a scrape on the sand, and well camouflaged, making them hard for humans to see when visiting beaches. If disturbed the parent birds will leave the nest exposing them to predators and the elements – both hot and cold weather extremes.
Once hatched, the chicks must feed themselves for 5 weeks. To do this they need to get to the water’s edge to find food which further increases their vulnerability.
Graduating to flying or ‘fledging’ is a significant milestone for the chicks of these threatened beach-nesting birds. It means they have survived 28 days in eggs on the sand and then 5 weeks foraging for food on the beach where they can fall prey to off-leash dogs, vehicles, unwitting beachgoers and predators like foxes, roaming cats, silver gulls, ravens and birds of prey.
With recent severe storms along our coastlines, many nests have been washed over by high tides coinciding with storm surges. The hoodies usually re-nest within a couple of weeks of a failure so this means there will be new nests appearing on our beaches just as the school holidays are starting.
Sharing our shores with plovers
Many plover species are highly threatened, largely due to their habitats being some of the most popular for human recreation, such as the beach, shores of lakes and wetlands, or even open grasslands. This habitat dependence, together with highly camouflaged nests and cryptic behaviours, means that humans can have major impacts on the survival of eggs and chicks, without even realising.
The key to coexistence between people and plovers is awareness, understanding and sharing space with them.
Birdlife Australia volunteers are trained to monitor the birds on beaches across southern Australia, observing the birds’ behaviour and talking to beachgoers about how we can all help to protect the birds and give them the best opportunity to raise their young.
Want to help?
There’s lots being done to support these birds: landscape boards, BirdLife Australia staff and volunteers work with councils to fence and sign breeding sites, and many local council by-laws require that dogs be on a lead from within signposted breeding zones.
So if you’re enjoying a day at the beach, there’s a few things you can do to help:
- leash your dog, especially during spring and summer
- pay attention to hooded plover awareness signs at beach entrances
- only walk below the high tide mark (that is, at the water’s edge) during the nesting season
- keep well away from areas temporarily fenced to help protect nests and chicks
- move away quietly if you spot hooded plovers on the beach
- keep off the sand dunes.
- drive your car at the low tide mark and close to the water’s edge
- if you see a fox near a hoodie nest or find a den, let your council or landscape board know.
You can also help by spreading the word – share this list with your friends and family. Or if you’re keen to become a volunteer please contact Birdlife Australia or your local landscape board. You can find out more about our beach-nesting birds here.
The hooded plover program is part of BirdLife Australia’s national beach-nesting bird program and is supported regionally by landscapes boards, local councils and volunteers.
We also have other plover species including red-capped plovers, masked lapwings (spur-winged plovers) and black-fronted dotterels. Not all plovers live by the coast on beaches, many are found in saltmarsh and wetland habitats, with several of these species found all across the state and Australia.
Our migrating ‘superhero’ plovers fly to Siberia each year to breed and then return back to Australia to fatten up to be ready for their next 20,000km round trip flight. These plovers include the grey plover, Pacific golden plover, greater sand plover, lesser sand plover and our cousin which visits us annually from across the ditch, the double banded plover.
Did you know a group of plovers is called a congregation?
Plover Appreciation Day - 16 September
Land managers, landscape board staff and BirdLife Australia volunteers will be celebrating Plover Appreciation Day this year to help raise awareness of Australia’s most threatened beach-nesting bird, the hooded plover. This special day is aimed at raising awareness of the plight of ground-nesting plovers around the world.
Find out more about what your local landscape board is doing to protect threatened species, including hoodies, in your area.
Find your local landscape board here.