Are the Peninsula Hooded Plovers in Trouble?
The Hooded Plover Thinornis rubricollis rubricollis
The Hooded Plover (eastern) is a stocky, medium-sized plover that is about 20 cm long and weighs approximately 100 g. Adult males and adult females cannot be distinguished. The adult birds have a black 'hood', a broad white 'collar' across the back of neck that is bordered at the base by a thin strip of black, a blackish stripe that extends across the base of the neck and shoulders to the sides of the breast, pale brownish-grey upperparts (except for some blackish around the tip of the upper-tail) and white underparts. When in flight, black and white colouring is revealed on the distal and posterior regions of the upper wing, and a narrow brownish-grey band can be seen along the trailing edge of the under-wing. The adults have a red bill that is black at tip, red rings around the eyes, brown irises, and dull orange-pink legs and feet.
Juvenile birds differ from the adults by having mainly dull grey-brown colouring on the head (there are small patches of white below the eyes and at the base of the bill, and the chin and throat are whitish or pale grey); lacking the thin strip of black at the base of the collar; lacking the blackish stripe that extends across the base of the neck and shoulders to the sides of the breast (in juveniles, this area is coloured the same as the rest of the upperparts); dark brown edging on the feathers of the upperparts; a bill that is mostly black but that has a small area of fleshy-pink colouring at the base; and pale orange rings around the eyes
The Hooded Plover (eastern) usually occurs in pairs during the breeding season and in small to large flocks (of up to 100 birds) during the non-breeding season. Single birds, pairs and small flocks may be observed throughout the year. The Hooded Plover (eastern) breeds in socially monogamous, solitary pairs
Hooded Plovers (eastern) mainly inhabit sandy ocean beaches and their adjacent dunes. They have been claimed to have reasonably narrow preferences when it comes to beach habitat, but recent studies suggest that a variety of beach types may be used. Hooded Plovers (eastern) are sometimes found in habitats other than beaches, e.g. on rock platforms, reefs, around near coastal lakes and lagoons.
Beaches occupied by Hooded Plovers (eastern) tend to be broad and flat, with a wide wave-wash zone for foraging and much beachcast seaweed, and backed by sparsely-vegetated sand-dunes that provide shelter and foraging and nesting sites
They usually avoid beaches that are narrow or steep, that have little seaweed, or that have waves that wash up to the base of the adjacent dunes. They also tend to avoid beaches that lack adjacent dunes, or that have dunes that are bare or heavily vegetated. They are claimed to avoid beaches that have rocky or pebble-covered shores, and sections of coastline that have continous cliffs (Bransbury 1988, but nests are commonly placed on stone-covered beaches at Phillip Island and birds may be found on small beaches surrounded by long lines of cliffs at Cape Otway .
The Hooded Plover (eastern) does not associate with any other species listed as threatened under the EPBC Act 1999, but it can co-occur with species listed at the state level such as Little Terns Sterna albifrons. It can also occur coincidentally near some other creatures (e.g. shorebirds, seals) that are listed as Marine and/or Migratory species under the EPBC Act 1999 (Weston 2006, pers. comm.).
The diet of the Hooded Plover (eastern) mainly consists of marine invertebrates (e.g. polychaete worms, molluscs and crustaceans). It also feeds on insects (e.g. beetles, flies, dragonflies) and vegetable material (mostly seeds). It forages near the shoreline in coastal areas, e.g. on beaches, rock or reef platforms, amongst boulders and dunes, and at lakes close to the coast. It captures its prey by running across the surface of a foraging substrate and intermittently stopping to peck or probe at prey items The Hooded Plover (eastern) is capable of foraging during the day or at night The amount of time spent foraging varies between seasons, being greatest in winter and smaller in summer (Buick 1985). The lesser amount of time spent foraging in summer is due in part to the fact that breeding adults sacrifice some foraging time so that they may attend their nests and, more particularly, their broods (i.e. adults forage much less when attending young as compared to attending nests)
Breeding & Lifecycle
Breeding is carried out on ocean beaches, nests are a depression in the sand usually in association with dry seaweed and located above average high tide levels up into the primary dunes. Nests can contain two to three sand-coloured eggs and incubation is about 30 days. The nesting season extends from August to February.
Banding studies have shown that the Hooded Plover (eastern) is capable of surviving for more than 16 years in the wild, although the average longevity is less than this (Weston 2000). Most birds begin breeding in the second season after hatching, but some commence breeding in either the first or third seasons after hatching
The Hooded Plover (eastern) is widely dispersed on or near sandy beaches in south-eastern Australia. Its range extends from about Jervis Bay in New South Wales to the western reaches of the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia, and includes Tasmania and various offshore islands such as Kangaroo Island, King Island and Flinders Island.
It is likely that the extent of occurrence will decline in future. The ongoing decline in population sizes (e.g. Baird & Dann 2003) is likely to lead to the fragmentation of existing populations and, ultimately, to a contraction in the limits of the distribution, especially in New South Wales (Weston 2006, pers. comm.).
Threats An assessment of risks to Hooded Plovers has been conducted on Parks Victoria (PV) managed land (which comprises about 82% of the Victorian population). The four highest risks that have the most impact are: human disturbance, introduced predators, habitat modification and dogs. Overall, Hooded Plover populations are declining because of low breeding success and availability of habitat which is likely to limit the amount of breeding (Weston 2003)
Breeding success can be severely limited due to a range of natural and human related factors. High seas can wash away nests, eggs or chicks, predation by foxes, cats, silver gulls, ravens and other scavengers, disturbance by dogs and humans and physical crushing of nests and eggs by vehicles, trampling by stock, horses and foot traffic. Due to the long incubation period and the inability of chicks to fly for at least three weeks each clutch is vulnerable to a range of threats for nearly a two-month period. Considering the breeding season also coincides with the highest period of beach usage by humans this can add additional pressure, which can result in low breeding success.
Monitoring of the 2006/2007 and 2007/2008 breeding seasons found that out of a total of 304 nests there were 714 eggs in total but only 67 birds reached fledgling stage. 64% of nests failed during the egg stage of development. Fox predation, impacts from high tide events and disturbance from humans and dogs were recorded as causes for loss (Birds Australia 2008).
In recent years there has been disappointing results from nesting attempts at Pt Lonsdale, 13th Beach, Baraham River and Logans Beach, Warrnambool. These are all highly used areas by the public and people need to be aware of the need to keep away from nests and control dogs to minimise disturbance to Hooded Plover eggs and chicks.
Sources - see links
Audio - Mike Hast interviews Malcolm Brown on the plight of the Hooded Plovers
Birdnet Hooded Plover Fact Sheet
- The four highest risks that have the most impact are: human disturbance, introduced predators, habitat modification and dogs.
Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarentee Act Action Statement
- Encourage local authorities to adopt and enforce controls over dogs on beaches during the breeding
- On the recommendation of DCE and the local conservation society, and in response to other public comment, the Shire of Phillip Island has banned dogs during the breeding season on five beaches used by Hooded Plovers..
EPBC Information (SPRAT Profile)
- Bans or regulations on domestic dogs at some beaches during the Hooded Plover (eastern) breeding season.