Conserve Wildlife Blog

Piping Plover Chicks Hatch at National Guard Training Center

June 13th, 2022

by Sherry Tirgrath

Piping Plover Joey and his chick. Photo by Sherry Tirgrath

It’s officially chick season for the beach-nesting birds of New Jersey, and some of the first, fuzzy babies of the year were hatched at National Guard Training Center in Sea Girt. Piping plovers, Joey and Hamlet, laid their third nest together after first nesting at NGTC in 2019. The pair both had different partners that year, but got together in 2020 and fledged three chicks together for two years in a row. This year, the pair had the first confirmed nest in the state and diligently incubated their eggs during the entire month of May. The nest was anticipated to hatch over Memorial Day Weekend.

Just a couple days before the chicks made their appearance, tragedy struck. Hamlet was not seen for a couple days, and fear started growing that something had happened to her or she abandoned the nest, which would be very unlikely for such a devoted and successful veteran mother. When the chicks finally hatched from their eggs on May 29th and only Joey was seen tending to them, some investigating was done into Hamlet’s disappearance. Her body was found at the edge of NGTC property, likely predated by an owl or other bird of prey, as evidenced by the condition of her body. As tragic and sad as her death was, it’s a wonder that her body was found at all. In many cases, there’s no closure for piping plover disappearances. Joey was left to raise his chicks as a single father, receiving praise and encouragement from everyone following his story. 

The chicks have reached the 10-day mark as of June 8th, and appear healthy and strong. Only two have made it this far, but Joey is doing an excellent job on his own protecting them from threats and keeping them in line. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that both chicks make it to fledging, and Joey can keep up his excellent fatherhood record. It’s unknown if Joey will seek a new mate next year or retire from parenthood, but for now, we are saddened by the end of the era of Joey and Hamlet. 

Monitoring of beach-nesting birds takes time and commitment from our team of biologists and seasonal technicians. The largest piping plover breeding population in New Jersey resides at our Holgate site, where pairs, nests and hatched chicks are observed and tracked nearly every day during the nesting season. Nests north of that site are sparser and face many threats from human disturbance and high predator presence. While the coastal piping plover population is still struggling, CWF continues to fight to protect our state’s rare species and educate the public about the importance of respecting wildlife.

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