A vulnerable shorebird found across southern Australia is showing good signs of its numbers increasing as fewer people visit beaches because of travel restrictions.
A recent survey of eastern hooded plovers in South Australia and Victoria showed a noticeable boost in the numbers of breeding pairs and fledglings.
Ninety-three breeding pairs were spotted by BirdLife Australia volunteers in SA, along with 56 fledglings.
A fledgling is the age in which a plover can begin to fly and evade predators.
The highest adult-to-chick ratio was found on Yorke Peninsula which recorded 0.77 fledglings per pair, above the state average of 0.6.
BirdLife Australia said a ratio between 0.4 and 0.5 would sustain a good population.
Spokesman Kasun Ekanayake said reduced visitor numbers to beaches this year had helped the bird.
“Reduced predator numbers, reduced visitor numbers to beaches, and also birds choosing good spots to nest as well,” he said.
“They can nest anywhere between just above the high-tide mark to the dunes — if people don’t spot these nests they can easily get stepped on.”
The plovers are also vulnerable to human activity on beaches including 4WDs and off-leash dogs.
Mr Ekanayake said plover chicks took 28 days to hatch and another five weeks before they could fly.
He said the chicks spent all their time on the beach.
“They have to walk down to the water’s edge or the high-tide mark to find food for themselves — the parents don’t bring food,” he said.
“If there’s a lot of disturbance on these beaches in terms of off-leash dogs and humans and vehicles, these birds just hide.
“Chicks can easily starve to death, so that’s essentially why their numbers are pretty low.”
The survey was carried out by volunteers, who Mr Ekanayake said were essential to the bird thriving.
“When you have more volunteers on the ground, they put fences up, they put nest signs up, so people visiting beaches are made aware of these nests being there.
“Most people do the right thing by putting their dogs on leashes and walking along the water’s edge, giving these nests a nice wide berth.”
Only 3,000 left
Sally Box, the Commonwealth’s Threatened Species Commissioner, said there were only 3,000 eastern hooded plovers left and that their protection was vital.
“Our native species are so precious and an important part of who we are,” she said.
“There is wonderful support for the bird, there are lots of people who absolutely love it.
“When we’ve only got around 3,000 left, we need to do everything we can to protect the really unique species that call Australia home.”
Dr Box said the bird’s protection was a priority for the Government and part of its Threatened Species Strategy.
“There are four projects that are protecting the hooded plover in Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania,” she said.
“Activities like feral animal control and protecting nests and habitats through fencing and signage and community education, and also population monitoring.”
She said the Yorke Peninsula’s Great Southern Ark was one project helping to protect the hooded plover.
abc.net.au, 2 August 2020
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