Hooded Plovers are Australia’s most endangered shorebird with only 7000 in Australia and less than 800 in South Australia. Since 2016, a pair of hoodies has nested at Seacliff and has successfully fledged 5 chicks in 4 seasons, one of the most successful breeding records.
Hooded Plovers (Thinornis rubricollis) are small coastal shorebirds with a distinctive black hood and throat. They are Australia’s most endangered shorebird with only 7000 in Australia and less than 800 in South Australia. Recent surveys conducted on the Fleurieu found only 29 breeding pairs but this has increased from 12 pairs in 2009 so they are making a comeback - with our help. Since 2016, a pair of hoodies has nested at Seacliff and has successfully fledged 5 chicks in 4 seasons, one of the most successful breeding records. A lot of this is due to the hoodie helpers.
Hoodie breeding success increases when people are made aware of them through volunteer interaction, signage and fencing. Hooded plovers mate for life and try to protect their eggs and chicks but breeding on summer beaches means competition from humans, dogs, even cars and horses, plus predators like gulls, magpies, hawks, foxes and cats. The birds persevere, sometimes nesting 6 times in a season with no success. 17 chicks fledged on the Fleurieu this season (Sep – Mar), about average nowadays.
3 eggs are laid in a nest scrape above the high-tide line - so well camouflaged they can easily be accidentally walked on but this helps to protect the eggs from predators. Eggs take 4 weeks to hatch. Chicks run around and feed themselves immediately but take 5 weeks to fly (fledge) so are vulnerable. Most dogs chase when they see movement and may squash or kill chicks accidentally. Hoodie helpers ask people to leash their dogs near the breeding area and Holdfast Bay Council brought in a by-law in 2019 that dogs must be leashed within 100 metres of a sign indicating a hooded plover breeding site. It also placed a Compliance Officer on the beach.
Our Seacliff hoodie pair have learned to be better parents with experience, like humans. The first year, 2016-17, they made 3 nests, produced 8 eggs and 2 chicks but ultimately none survived and the chicks wandered at will with the adults following so ended up near the Yacht Club before disappearing.
In 2017-18 the parents nested in the Young St drain area which provides a place to feed and cool off away from the pressures of the main beach. They kept the chicks mostly in this area and, although the first nest failed (eggs eaten by birds?), the second produced 3 chicks and 1 fledged, the first at Seacliff in living memory.
Kerri Bartley captured the parents with their (and our) first successful fledgling (middle) in the photo below.
The summer of 2018-19, one of the adults was banded ‘XS’ and from the first nest 3 chicks hatched - 1 was taken by a magpie, 1 weaker chick disappeared but the third fledged – ‘Cliff’. A second nest had 3 eggs, 1 eaten by a dog but 2 chicks hatched of which one survived – ‘Sandy’, banded as ‘YL’. This was a bad year for the Fleurieu birds – only 10 fledgelings survived and 2 of those were from Seacliff!
2019-20 was another successful year for the Seacliff pair – the first clutch of eggs was taken, probably by kestrels, but the second produced 3 chicks and 2 fledged, banded as ‘CV’ and “JR’. The birds did not nest again that season, staying as a family.
In winter hooded plovers often leave their breeding beaches and band together as a flock, although the youngsters fly around together for their first few years before settling down with a partner to breed annually for up to 20 years. Adults are seldom killed although a banded adult was lost from Hallett Cove in 2018. Hoodies first bred at Hallett Cove in 2017-18 and actually fledged a chick but have not been lucky since, although the bird that lost its mate is now breeding there with a new partner.
When you visit the beach and see signs for hoodies, remember these heroic little birds and help them by keeping away from the nesting area and leashing your dog when walking past.
Article by Lynda Yates