• Spring-time view of the seashore, with shorebirds returning to the surf.

    Cape Hatteras

    National Seashore North Carolina

Piping Plover Chicks Hatch at Cape Point

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Date: June 2, 2006
Contact: Outer Banks Group, (252) 473-2111

Today Outer Banks Group Superintendent Mike Murray announced the successful hatching of piping plover chicks at Cape Point on Hatteras Island in Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Over the past 24 hours, three of the four eggs from one plover nest have hatched. The hatching process takes time and may continue for one or more days. “We are now monitoring the movement and activity of the chicks to determine the best protective measures to use. Every effort will be made to keep access open while providing for the protection of the new chicks,” said Superintendent Murray.

The newly hatched plover chicks have been observed foraging at dried ephemeral pools, under the supervision of one adult, while the other adult continues to incubate the remaining egg. Park staff will continue to monitor the area for signs of the fourth chick.

Once piping plovers lay four eggs, the nest is considered to be a full clutch. This nest was discovered with four eggs already present, making it hard to estimate a hatch date, which is typically 27-30 days after the fourth egg is laid. In anticipation of the hatching, park staff extended the resource protection closure already in effect at Cape Point. It was important to expand this area because plover chicks are typically mobile within 24 hours of hatch. Once mobile, the chicks will leave the nest and move extensively along the beach, intertidal zone, and mudflats to feed with their parents. Documentation reveals that plover chicks may move hundreds of yards from the nest site during their first week of life.

Visitors should reduce vehicular speeds to 10 mph when entering the resource protection area around Cape Point. Visitors are also reminded to keep pets leashed at all times.

The piping plover is listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The ESA prohibits harassing, harming, pursuing, hunting, shooting, wounding, killing, trapping, capturing, or collecting federally protected species. Penalties for violation of the ESA for threatened species include a fine of up to $25,000, imprisonment for not more than six months, or both.

Last year, six piping plover chicks were raised successfully in the Seashore. Cape Hatteras National Seashore statistics document that piping plover chick fledging rate has declined from a high of twelve chicks in 1998. Numbers of breeding pairs of piping plovers and nests have also declined in recent years.

ABOUT PIPING PLOVERS

Piping plovers are small, sand-colored shorebirds that nest on sandy, coastal beaches from South Carolina to Newfoundland. Since 1986, the Atlantic Coast population has been protected as a threatened species under provisions of the ESA.

Piping plover lay their eggs in nests situated above the high tide line on coastal beaches, sand flats at the end of sandspits and barrier islands, gently sloping foredunes, blowout areas behind primary dunes, and wash over areas cut into or between dunes. Nest sites are shallow scraped depressions in the sand.

Feeding activities of chicks are particularly important to their survival. Piping plover chicks typically triple their weight during the first two weeks post-hatching. Feeding activities of both adults and chicks occur during all hours of the day and night and at all stages of the tidal cycle.

Plover foods consist of invertebrates such as marine worms, fly larvae, beetles, crustaceans, or mollusks. Feeding areas include intertidal portions of ocean beaches, wash over areas, mudflats, sandflats, wracklines and shoreline of coast ponds, lagoons, or salt marshes.

Typical behavior of piping plover chicks increases their vulnerability to vehicles. Chicks frequently move between the upper berm or foredune and feeding habitats in the wrack line, intertidal zone, and mud flats. These movements place chicks in the paths of off-road vehicles driving along the berm or through the intertidal zone.

Plover chicks will stand in, walk, and run along tire ruts, and sometimes have difficulty crossing deep ruts or climbing out of them. Chicks, using defensive behavior, will sometime stand motionless or crouch in tire tracks as vehicles approach. The small chicks may not be able to move quickly enough to get out of the way.

Predatory threats to piping plover include red fox, feral cats, dogs, gulls, raccoons, and crows. These predator species will feed on both plover eggs and chicks.

Did You Know?

Giant Water Flea

This is not a space alien, even though it has a transparent body, wings, and a very large eye. Giant water fleas grow up to 2 cm long, and are a food source for small fish that shelter in the sound. You can swim with them in the sound-side waters off Cape Hatteras National Seashore.