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Hooded Plover

Hooded Plover & chick. Image: Glenn Ehmke.

 

Hooded Plover (eastern)
Thinornis rubricollis rubricollis
Kingdom:   Animalia
Phylum:   Chordata
Class:   Aves
Order:   Ciconiformes
Sub-Order:    Charadrii
Family:   Charadriidae
Status
Australia:   vulnerable (EPBC Act 1999)
New South Wales:    critically endangered
South Australia:    vulnerable 
Tasmania:   not listed (TSP Act 1995) 26-10-2015
Victoria:   vulnerable  (DELWP 2013)
FFG:   Action Statement No. 9 (pdf)

 

The Hooded Plover is mainly found along the southern coastline of Australia where two populations are recognised, one in Western Australia and the other in south-eastern Australia (South Australia, Victoria, Tasmania and southern New South Wales). Population estimates for south-eastern Australia vary up to 3000 birds (EA 2000) with counts in Victoria between 334-538 birds (Weston 2003), 550 (Ewers et al, 2011) and 565 adults in November 2012. Studies indicate a decline in the order of 12 - 13% per year  (Birdlife Australia 2014).

 

The adult Hooded Plover is about 20 cm high, sandy-brown above with a white underside. Conspicuous features when viewing in the field are its black head and a white nape (collar at base of its neck) and a broad black line extending across its lower hindneck to each side of the breast. Its bill is red with a black tip. Males and females appear similar whilst juveniles can be distinguished by the lack of black markings and red bill.

All known records of Hooded Plover in Victoria. Source VBA 2015.

Habitat & ecology

Hooded Plovers are most likely observed in pairs, sometimes in small groups on wide sandy ocean beaches and at mouths of rivers where wide sandy areas are formed. They are often found where seaweed and other beach washed material has been deposited which provides a certain amount of shelter and a harbour for food such as sandhoppers.

Rankings of key habitats in Victoria's Parks (adapted from Weston 2003 and Birdlife Australia 2014).

It should be noted that although there may be variations in counts from year to year the following ranking is based on broad patterns of counts over time.  Theses rankings also include important parks which had greater that 5% of the Victorian count in 2010.

  1. Mornington Peninsula National Park
  2. Belfast Coastal Reserve
  3. Kilcunda - Harmers Haven Coastal Reserve
  4. Cape Liptrap Coastal Park
  5. Discovery Bay Coastal Park
  6. Croajingolong National Park
  7. Great Otway National Park
  8. Wilsons Promontory National Park 

Other important areas of coastal habitat

  • Cape Conran Coastal Park -area has high productivity for relatively few pairs Kilcunda to Cape Gippsland Lakes and area between Lakes Entrance and Lake Tyers.
  • Cape Liptrap to Bass Coast - high density of breeding pairs (~26 pairs).
  • Phillip Island - southern and western ocean beaches with a stable population around 17 breeding pairs managed by Phillip Island Nature Park.
  • Point Lonsdale to Anglesea - 9 breeding pairs in this area includes 13 km of coastline managed by Barwon Coast Committee of Management.
  • Point Roadknight- Anglesea.
  • Apollo Bay -  3-4 pairs occur on estuaries within the township..
  • Warrnambool to Narrawong a high density of breeding pairs (35% of the Victorian population), however suffers the poorest breeding success.
  • Narrawong Coastal Reserve - high breeding zone between Portland and Warrnambool.
  • Point Danger, Portland - Committee of Management.
  • Lower Glenelg National Park.

Feeding

The Hooded Plover is an opportunistic feeder and feeding takes place by day and night according to the availability and behaviour of prey that is, in turn, influenced by tidal levels and activity of prey.  Diet consists of insects, amphipod crustaceans (sandhoppers), polychaete worms and small bivalve molluscs. 

Breeding

The nesting season extends from August to February with the peak months November to January. Nesting later in the season results in a higher likelihood of fledging young successfully than nests early in the season (Birdlife Australia 2012) . 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. Breeding territories occupy approximately 1km of beach (Birdlife Australia 2014). Nests can contain two to three sand-coloured eggs with incubation about 30 days.  After hatching it takes a further 35 days until the chicks can fly.

Hooded Plover nest with eggs, easily damaged by foot traffic. Image: Glen Ehmke.

 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 - primarily the Red Fox
  • habitat modification
  • dogs off leashes on beaches

Other threats include:

  • horses on beaches
  • vehicles on beaches

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.

At Philip Island the monitoring of breeding success commenced in 1982 which found the breeding population was declining significantly, with 83% of clutches failing mostly due to human induced changes (Birdlife Australia 2012).

Monitoring of the 2006/2007 and 2007/2008 breeding seasons across Victoria 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.

Research supported by Birdlife Australia used remote cameras to monitor 81 nests across the Victorian coast, with 38 clutches failing and 26 being successful.  The main causes of nest failure were foxes, ravens and magpies.

Predation was higher at nests on unbaited beaches, and percentage of fox tracks near nests was higher on unbaited beaches.

Australian Ravens can take chicks from the nest. Image taken with Keep Guard remote camera, setup and monitored by Birdlife Australia.

Fox visiting nest, with an egg in the nest beside the left front leg of the fox. Image taken with Keep Guard remote camera, setup and monitored by Birdlife Australia.

Conservation of the Hooded Plover in Victoria

A key measure is to ensure the Hooded Plover's feeding and nesting areas are retained in natural conditions with minimal disturbance from predators and human activities.

Management reports

Two important reports have been produced in recent years:

  • In 2003, Parks Victoria commissioned a report; - Risks to Hooded Plovers on Parks Victoria managed land (Weston 2003)
  • In 2014, Birdlife Australia completed a report - Managing the Hooded Plover in Victoria: A site by site assessment of threats and prioritisation of management investment on Parks Victoria managed land.

Both reports provide more detailed analysis of risks and threats and management options relating to Victoria.

Monitoring counts

Every second year counts are conducted along Victoria's ocean beaches by walking along pre-selected ocean beaches, the next count is scheduled for 2012. Additional counts for odd years is proposed, these would take place in Autumn rather than Summer. Counts are co-ordinated through Birdlife Australia.

A five year overview of breeding success from 2008-2012 found that across 90-100 breeding sites in Victoria, the number of fledglings for each season ranged between 30 – 40, except for the 2009/10 season when there were 70 fledglings (Birdlife Australia 2012).  .

Selected count information for Victoria

2010
  • 213 Hooded Plover adults and 9 juveniles between Queenscliff and the South Australian border which is similar to previous counts.
2011 / 2012
  • 37 nests, 31 failed, 85 eggs, 25 chicks, 12 fledged.
2014  

Summary adapted from Beach Nesting Birds - Word about the Hoodi (Birdlife 2014)

  • The overall breeding success in Victoria was similar to other seasons although some traditional areas were down whilst some old non productive sites were successful.
  • Eastern Victoria struggled to produce chicks this season,
  • South Gippsland - Waratah Bay six fledglings
  • Philip Island 21 nests with 50 eggs of which 22 hatched Eight chicks fledged on Phillip Island for the 2013-14
  • Mornington Peninsula had the worst season experienced to date, one chick successfully fledged this season,  Friends of the Hooded Plover Mornington Peninsula Inc. over 35 Hooded Plover pairs monitored over the Peninsula, 139 eggs found and 34 chicks observed.
  • Bass Coast - 7 Fledglings from 29 breeding pairs with a 6.4% success rate for eggs to fledgling.
  • Warrnambool and Yambuk coast - high chick survival.
  • Bellarine Coast,  Point Lonsdale and Ocean Grove, four chicks fledged due to an incredible volunteer effort
  • Point Roadknight  & Moggs Creek - 3 fledglings.
2015
  • 585 Hooded Plovers (569 adults and 16 juveniles) counted; The highest densities were;
  • Warrnambool to Yambuk (2.44 birds/km).
  • Mornington Peninsula (2.15 birds/km).
  • Bass Coast, between San Remo and Inverloch (1.63 birds/km).
  • Phillip Island (1.19 birds/km).
  • Between Princetown and Warrnambool (1.14 birds/km),
  • Venus Bay (1.04 birds/km).  
2016

Phillip Island Nature Parks environment rangers and dedicated volunteers have managed and monitored the Hooded Plovers at Philip Island. The 2015/16 season was a record year, with a total of 17 chicks fledging this season, from both the North and South coasts of the island.

The bi-annual count at Phillip Island in November 2016 had a total of 47 Hooded Plovers which was the highest number recorded in 16 years of monitoring.

Coastal management

Parks Victoria is responsible for managing 76.1% of the statewide Hooded Plover population. A report by (Birdlife Australia 2014) found that in three of the five consecutive breeding seasons over which monitoring occurred (2006/07-2010/11), breeding success (standardised as the number of fledglings per pair) was lower on Parks Victoria managed coastline than for pairs on non-Parks Victoria managed coastline. 

Areas where there is active management and high volunteer support tend to be more successful e.g. increases in successful fledging occurred within the Bellarine Peninsula and Surf Coast on land managed by Committees of Management and local councils supported by active conservation group involvement .

Monitoring breeding success

Scout guard (remote) cameras are being used to monitor selected nests to detect their fates and to better document hatching success rates, especially to understand whether there are different suites of predators for dune versus beach nests (often nests fail on the day they were due to hatch, so to know whether they have definitely hatched is very important information).

A new colour marking system was introduced in 2010 which has engraved (with two letters) orange flags on the upper leg as opposed to the other systems of 3 colour bands method of identification. The aim is to determine the survival rate of fledglings as there is a big gap in knowledge of what happens to fledglings. By late December 2010, 17 Hooded Plovers on the Bellarine Peninsula and Bass Coast had been flagged. Numerous reports were received which has enabled the tracking movements from Barwon Heads to Torquay for example. 

Commencing in 2016, a Deakin University honours student will study the movements and fate of Hooded Plover chicks to gain a greater understanding of chick movement, the threats they face and identify the main causes of mortality. The study covers three regions: the Mornington Peninsula, Bass Coast, and Bellarine/Surf Coast.

Specific management actions 

Of the 74 sites monitored by Birdlife Australia, 82.4% require nest site protection, 54% require dog management, 30% require horse management and 45%require vehicle management (Birdlife Australia 2014).

  • Ensure that conservation of the Hooded Plover is considered in all feral Cat and Red Fox control programs in coastal areas particularly those managed by Parks Victoria and Coastal Committees of Management.
  • Encourage local bird observers and field naturalist clubs, friends groups and other interested bodies to begin or continue to monitor local populations, and especially nest sites.
  • Encourage local bird observers and field naturalist clubs, friends groups and other interested bodies to begin or continue to monitor local populations, and especially nest sites.
  • Use signs and information shelters in areas of high visitor use to promote public awareness of Hooded Plover habitat and survival requirements.
  • Control illegal vehicle use of beaches, horses ridden above the high-tide mark and dogs off leashes.

More detailed management actions are contained in the FFG Action Statement and Birdlife Australia report 2014.

Recent management initiatives

Partnerships 

  • Birdlife Australia
  • Bass Coast Shire
  • DELWP
  • Parks Victoria
  • Phillip Island Nature Park.
  • Selected Coastal Committees of Management
  • Friends of Hooded Plover Groups
  • Selected Field Naturalists Clubs
  • Selected Landcare Groups
  • ANGAIR
  • Individual volunteers

 

Selected references

 

See also:

My hoodie - A guide to the amazing breeding lives of Hooded Plovers

Birdlife Australia - Beach-nesting Birds

Contacts:

BirdLife Australia’s Beach-nesting Birds Team e-mail  or on 03 9347 0757

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