Australia’s most threatened beach-nesting bird has kicked off its breeding season on the Adelaide and Fleurieu coast, with eggs already spotted at 3 locations this month.

Hooded plover pair spotted nesting at Victor Harbor-credit Richard Edwards
The hooded plover pair spotted nesting at Victor Harbor. Photo: Richard Edwards.

Hooded plover eggs spotted at Victor Harbor in early August were the first sign the season had begun, and more were seen at Middleton and the River Torrens mouth at Henley Beach South just last week.

Hooded plover eggs-credit Kerri Bartley
Hooded plover eggs. Photo: Kerri Bartley.

Green Adelaide Coast and Seas Team Leader Tony Flaherty said it’s still early days in the breeding cycle, but it’s always encouraging to see the first hooded plover eggs of the season appear on our coastline.

Mr Flaherty said that there are only about 70 hooded plovers – affectionately known as “hoodies” – across Adelaide and the Fleurieu Peninsula and they face many challenges to successfully raise their families.

“Hooded plover chicks cannot fly for the first 5 weeks of their life, yet they must get their own food from the minute they hatch,” he said.

“Any disturbance can be a problem and hoodie parents must constantly defend their chicks from aerial predators, such as magpies, ravens and silver gulls – also known as seagulls, as well as on-ground threats like foxes.

“People and dogs on the beach also add to the pressure because they divert the parents’ attention away from protecting the chicks and leave them exposed to being snatched up.”

“If the chicks can make it to fledging at that 5-week mark, which is when they can fly, their chances of survival are greatly increased.”

Breeding season can begin any time from the start of August and continues until around March – the busiest time for Adelaide, Fleurieu and other beaches across the state.

Last breeding season, 18 chicks that hatched along the Adelaide and Fleurieu coastline made it to fledging.

It was only the second time in more than 10 years that this number of chicks hit this critical milestone, with this figure only beaten once – by one – in that same timeframe.

Mr Flaherty attributed this success to the many people and organisations involved in protecting hooded plovers.

“Life on the beach can be tough but everyone can play a part in helping beach-nesting birds,” he said.

“Leashing dogs at the beach, especially during spring and summer, walking below the high tide mark during the breeding season, not driving on the beach or dune areas, and moving away quietly if you spot hoodies or other beach-nesting birds can make a real difference.

“Temporary signs and fencing are placed at nesting sites throughout the breeding season to warn people about eggs or chicks on the beach, so keep an eye out for these whenever you’re at the beach.”

New permanent fencing has also been erected at the River Torrens mouth, where the birds often breed, to help protect the local beach-nesting bird families – already a pair have taken advantage of this site and are working on a nest scrape in preparation for egg laying.

hooded plovers behind permanent fencing-photo Kerri Bartley
Hooded plover behind the permanent fencing. Photo: Kerri Bartley.

Hooded plovers from Henley Beach down to Goolwa Beach are considered one population because in the non-breeding season the birds stop protecting their nesting territories and can be seen flocking together anywhere along this stretch of coast – sometimes even further north or south.

“The number of hooded plovers on the metro beaches directly correlates with how hooded plovers are faring on the Fleurieu Peninsula, which means looking after them has to be a joint effort,” Mr Flaherty said.

“Volunteers, and staff from Green Adelaide, BirdLife Australia and the Hills and Fleurieu Landscape Board will all play a role in helping hoodies this breeding season.”

Hooded plovers are one of 5 beach-nesting birds found on the Adelaide coast, alongside sooty and pied oystercatchers, fairy terns and red-capped plovers.

While the hooded plovers have beaten them to it, red-capped plovers can be seen paired-up at West Beach and eggs are also expected sometime this month.

Mr Flaherty said that there is some concern over numbers of red-capped plovers as monitoring of their population in Adelaide over the last decade has shown a decrease in numbers, most likely due to poor breeding success.

The Hooded Plover project is jointly coordinated by Green Adelaide, Hills and Fleurieu Landscape Board and BirdLife Australia, with support from local councils, and is funded by Green Adelaide and the Hills and Fleurieu Landscape Board, through funding from the Australian Government.

Find out more about hooded plovers.

Like what you’ve read? Browse our other nature stories, subscribe to our monthly newsletter below and/or follow us on Facebook and Instagram.