If you have you seen a tiny bird with a prominent black head and a white ‘scarf’ at the back of its neck, skittering along one of our local beaches then you’ve seen an Eastern Hooded Plover. They are a threatened species, classified as ‘vulnerable’ in South Australia with a population of about 25 breeding pairs on the Fleurieu Peninsula.

Hooded Plovers spend their entire life on beaches which provide them with food, nesting sites and somewhere to raise their chicks. Unfortunately, the beaches favoured by the birds is also where so many of us like to spend our leisure time and this has made life increasingly difficult for the plovers.

Due to declining populations throughout its range (southern NSW, Victoria, Tasmania and SA) about 10 years ago Birdlife Australia launched a program staffed by volunteers with the assistance of local councils and relevant government bodies to monitor and manage Hooded Plovers. The birds were suffering a steep decline in the survival rate of nests and chicks, often due to human disturbance. This program is still running today and has been successful in increasing the survival rate of eggs and chicks on our beaches to match that of undisturbed beaches.

Their nest is a scrape in the sand, into which 2-3 eggs are laid over a period of several days. They blend in to the beachscape which is why, with the help of Onkaparinga Council, volunteers erect temporary roped off areas with signs to offer protection to the nests. The eggs take about 4 weeks to hatch. The chicks are very tiny at first and don’t reach flying age until they are five weeks old. The chicks have to feed themselves while their parents supervise them. This means the chicks need to roam widely over the beach in order to find enough food to grow and this makes them extremely vulnerable to predators. If disturbed, the chicks go into hiding as their only means of defence and this means that they cannot feed. Disturbance has been identified as a major cause of chick mortality on beaches where humans and dogs are present.

So, please be mindful that we are sharing the hoodies’ natural breeding zone, and minimise disturbance of the birds. If you are walking along a beach where the plovers are nesting (you will see signs and roped off areas), stay close to the water’s edge, as far from the fenced area as possible, and if you have a dog please put it on a leash.

You can find out more about hooded plovers at http://www.birdlife.org.au/bird-profile/hooded-plover
New volunteers to the beach-nesting birds monitoring program are welcome, and excellent training is provided. If you’d like to join us, please email BirdLife Australia’s Beach-nesting Bird’s team at hoodedplover@birdlife.org.au

Karin Reiderer, Ash Read, Sue Read