Conserve Wildlife Blog

Piping Plovers (Joey and Hamlet) Return!

April 1st, 2022

by Sherry Tirgrath, Wildlife Biologist

As the piping plovers of New Jersey return to their coastal breeding grounds from their wintering range, a familiar pair has been spotted at the National Guard Training Center (NGTC) in Sea Girt. The pair, dubbed “Joey” and “Hamlet”, have nested at NGTC for 3 consecutive years and are back for their 4th nesting season in 2022. The first of the pair was noticed on site on March 22nd, seemingly resting after a long journey. The second plover was spotted the morning of March 25th and the two have been foraging and roosting together since. The same day that the second plover of the pair arrived, 7 more piping plovers were found roosting near the south boundary of NGTC’s beach. That group has moved on, but Joey and Hamlet have remained to reclaim their territory.

Joey and Hamlet were both banded as chicks in 2018 at Sea Bright, NJ. They have successfully raised chicks at NGTC since they began nesting there in 2019. Prior to their initial arrival, piping plovers had not nested at that site for over a decade. Upon their first arrival at NGTC’s beach in 2019, Joey and Hamlet were paired with different mates. Joey nested with an unbanded female and fledged 2 chicks, while Hamlet nested with a male plover named “Bo”. However, the chicks from their nest did not survive to fledging. Joey and Hamlet paired up in 2020 and fledged 3 chicks together that year and 3 again in 2021. Overall, the pair is highly productive at this site, which signifies that piping plovers will continue to nest here in the future.

Other beach-nesting birds also frequent the site. Least terns, a state-endangered species, and American oystercatchers, a species of special concern, have both nested on site in the past. However, in 2019, predation by red fox resulted in a least tern colony losing 14 nests and 5 chicks, with only one chick surviving to fledge. Since then, the terns have roosted on site but have not attempted to nest. American oystercatchers also roost on site each year but have not had any successful nest attempts in the last few years. Red fox caused nest failures in 2019 and 2020, with no attempt made to nest last year in 2021.

To encourage beach-nesting birds to return and nest at NGTC, a variety of management strategies have been carried out to provide a more optimal nesting habitat. Vegetation thinning was performed in an established protection area to create more space for shorebirds to choose from with plenty of vegetation left to provide shelter and camouflage from people and predators. Shell fragments were deposited in the habitat for use by the shorebirds for lining their nests. The fragments are used to disguise nests as the eggs blend in well with the sand and broken shell pieces. Least tern decoys were also placed around the protection area to encourage the terns to roost and hopefully nest on site again. Although plovers are territorial and won’t nest together, least terns prefer to roost and nest in colonies to maximize protection and defense. The decoys may draw them to investigate the site and stick around.

Fingers are crossed for another productive season for Joey and Hamlet at NGTC, and there’s hope for other beach-nesting birds to return to utilize the site for raising chicks, as well.

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