Piping plover eggs in Seabrook could hatch next week

AMANDA GETCHELL/Staff photoPiping plovers nesting on Seabrook Beach are being monitored by New Hampshire Fish and Game. 

SEABROOK — The eggs in a late-incubating piping plover nest are expected to hatch next week, according to New Hampshire Fish and Game, which confirmed this is the nesting pair’s third attempt at trying to hatch chicks.

Right now, there is only one nest with eggs that haven’t hatched near the Seabrook and Salisbury border, said Brendan Clifford, a scientist with Fish and Game’s Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program who oversees the piping plover protection initiative.

“They usually first nest around early May and they hopefully hatch,” Clifford said. “If it’s a good year, they’ll hatch by June and be able to fly by July. This is their third nest attempt. They’ve lost nests a couple times.”

Piping plovers are classified as an endangered species in New Hampshire and are threatened across the country, Clifford noted. Plover nests and breeding areas are often roped off and have signs to indicate active nests are nearby.

Fish and Game’s piping plover protection program seeks to protect these rare shorebirds during breeding season and to manage the beaches in a safe, effective way for wildlife and people going to the beach, he said.

“We have a seasonal plover monitor we hire every year,” he said. “This person spends the entire summer down on beach, walking up and down in Hampton and Seabrook and documents everything that’s going on. It’s a lot of legwork following the birds around, observing what they’re doing.”

Sue McGrath, a local bird expert, said plovers will lay three to five eggs, most commonly four. The female and male build the nest and are present during the incubation period, which lasts 25 to 31 days.

So far this year, eggs in a couple of nests have hatched in Hampton and Seabrook, said Clifford, who noted that other plovers need to make new nests. There were five nests, but some were lost to predators, he added.

Some nests, which are simply small indentations in the sand, can go undetected and are easy to miss at first glance since plover eggs are the same color as sand, Clifford said.

In Seabrook, eggs in two nests have hatched and eggs in another are still being incubated, Clifford said.

“Nests are quite hard to find,” Clifford said. “We watch birds for a while to see where they’re going. We look for little footprints. That’s why we rope off the areas, people would step on them. Even we have trouble seeing them.”

Once the eggs hatch next week, Clifford said Fish and Game will continue to monitor the chicks until they fly.

Chicks do not stay in the nest after they hatch. The small birds will face new threats such as children running on the beach and dogs that aren’t on leashes, Clifford said.

McGrath noted that fencing is beneficial when it comes to educating visitors and keeping the chicks safe.

“Because the little ones are really clueless ... they could step down into an indentation and could be too steep for them to get back out,” McGrath said. “They’re really at risk for getting stepped on. They used to get run over when people would drive out on the beaches.”

Clifford theorized the cool spring and heavier rainfall may have caused the plover nests to fail and for the birds to begin mating later in the season. He noted there was no hatching over Memorial Day weekend, something that Fish and Game officials would see during a normal nesting year.

“We’ve had really good success the last couple years,” he said. “Although this is a late year, we are hoping to have another successful year. We’ve had several chicks that fledged. We had a whole group in Hampton, five nests. That’s a lot for there. We’ve had a productive year.”

To learn more about the piping plover protection program, visit https://wildlife.state.nh.us/nongame/project-plover.html