Photography obsessed writer and urban explorer. Lover of nature, art and long weekends. Adelaide, South Australia.
Published December 31st 2019
Be a plover lover
Each summer, along our state's long coastlines, beach-nesting birds are working hard to raise a family. If you're lucky you might even see one or two and if you're really lucky you might catch sight of a breeding pair of Hooded Plovers. Why lucky? Because, along the whole of the Fleurieu Peninsula (which includes Adelaide metropolitan beaches), there are fewer than 60 Hooded Plovers in existence. There are 70 volunteers who monitor their moves which means that there are more volunteers than there are birds!
This team of 'Plover Lovers' record bird sightings and upload the data to an online database on the Birdlife Australia website. This data is analyzed and scrutinised and from it, the bird experts can trend the birds' breeding locations, nests, chicks and the threats that impact the species survival. The more eyes on these birds, the better their survival rate. For the volunteers, it's a rare opportunity to play an active role in bringing a species back from the brink of extinction.
Unfortunately for the beach-nesting birds (which also includes other species such as the Red Capped Plover, the Pied Oystercatcher, Fairy Tern and Sooty Oystercatcher), their breeding season is between August and March which is the same time of year that we Australians love to head to the beach for summer fun and recreation.
Human foot traffic and dogs off the leash are the biggest threats to the beach birds. The birds lay their eggs directly onto the sand, which are well camouflaged and very hard to see. People walking along the beach, cars driving on the beach, dogs running along the beach - all can crush the eggs and/or chicks. Unrestrained dogs frighten the parent birds away from their nests which leaves the chicks vulnerable to predators and the weather.
Increased coastal development and beach usage around Australia has driven the Hooded Plover to extinction in Queensland and northern NSW, reducing its survival to a few remote beaches in southern Australia.
The Hooded Plover is listed as vulnerable nationally, with fewer than 800 in South Australia and only 7000 in Australia.
Battling against the odds, the Hooded Plovers continue to nest each year on the Fleurieu Peninsula beaches, but with limited success.
During the last breeding season on the Fleurieu Peninsula, Hooded Plover pairs made 86 attempts to nest. This resulted in 223 eggs and 46 chicks. Of the 46 chicks born, only 11 survived to the fully-fledged stage. This summer there are 27 breeding pairs being watched and recorded and all fingers are crossed for a successful breeding season. The Hooded Plover is a plucky and resilient bird. Most pairs will attempt to rebuild after each nest failure.
What can you do if you suspect a bird is nesting on the beach you're visiting? There are ways to co-exist with these little birds that call the beach their home.
Research of data collected at managed beaches has proved that there is a higher likelihood of Hooded Plovers successfully raising a chick on a beach that has active volunteers.
The birds mostly go unnoticed by the general public due to their size and their ability to hide. BirdLife Australia, their volunteers and local councils monitor bird activity and work swiftly to erect fences, signs and shelters to offer the nests some protection from the beach-going public.
The Hooded Plovers are tiny little birds, about the size of your hand. The chicks look like little bits of fluff on sticks. You may not see them at first. They move quickly - very quickly! You'll see them between the wet sand where they feed on small sea bugs and above the high tide mark where they raise their young.
They're easily spooked. If you are too close, they will run and try to distract you away from their nest which can be disastrous for the eggs and chicks. If they're away too long, the eggs can bake in the hot sun or they can be taken by a predatory bird who seizes a prime opportunity for a snack.
The chicks can't fly for five weeks and have to feed themselves from the day they hatch. The food they eat is on the wet sand at the water's edge which is where most of us like to walk, run and have fun. If you come across an area of beach that is roped off, or see a sign advising that you are approaching a beach-nesting bird area please consider taking a wide berth around the area to give the birds some space. Walk on the wet sand and keep your dog on a leash until you are clear of the area.
Likewise, if you spot a beach-nesting bird in an area where there is no obvious signage or nest management in place, then please report your sighting to Birdlife Australia so that the area can be assessed and the birds protected.
There are several Hooded Plover pairs nesting and raising chicks at the moment, all the way along our Fleurieu coastline from Seacliff to Middleton.
We share the beach-nesting birds natural breeding zone and minimising our disturbance will help with increasing their survival rate. It takes a community working together to save these birds. A couple of simple changes to your beach visit will give them a helping hand and ensure that these birds will continue to breed and thrive along our coastlines.