Conserve Wildlife Blog

A Rough Year for Piping Plovers at National Guard Training Center

July 28th, 2022

By Sherry Tirgrath

Ground-nesting birds in New Jersey face many difficulties and threats that most other birds typically do not struggle with. Joey and Hamlet, the piping plover pair at National Guard Training Center in Sea Girt, were not exempt from those hardships this nesting season. We know our readers have been waiting for an update on the pair, and as a warning, their story did not end well this year. Joey lost his mate, Hamlet, to a predator attack just days before their chicks would hatch. Her body was found not far from their nesting site- evidence pointing to a bird of prey taking her out. Piping plovers and other beach-nesting birds can be easy targets for owls and falcons. They incubate their nests out in the open without the cover of dense vegetation. Man-made structures along the NJ coast often serve as roosts for raptors to monitor an area and pick out vulnerable prey. Hamlet was, unfortunately, a victim of nature taking its course, and Joey was left to rear the chicks on his own.

Joey and two of his chicks

Hamlet’s death occurred very close to the anticipated hatch date, so Joey did not abandon the nest and carried on with incubating alone. Four chicks hatched over Memorial Day Weekend. Over the course of a few days, two chicks were lost. The last two were doing very well with their doting, attentive father managing them day and night all by himself. They made it to the 10-day mark, the end of the “critical” period for chick growth. However, they were not out of the woods yet. Predator populations on NJ beaches have become very high. Red foxes, raccoons, opossums, domestic cats and crows are attracted to areas of human activity near the shore where food may be available in the form of trash or scraps left behind by people. All are nest predators, and some will attack chicks before they are fledged and able to escape. Foxes are a major threat to piping plovers. They prey on eggs and chicks, and have destroyed many nests this year in NJ. As a single plover parent, it was impossible for Joey to constantly brood, watch, and protect his chicks while foraging for food himself. Sadly, both remaining chicks were lost around the same time, likely to predators.

Joey was without a brood or mate to establish a new nest with mid-June. Within a couple weeks, he started venturing off-site, and eventually came back with a plover we hadn’t seen before. The new bird was hatched and banded on Fire Island by Virginia Tech in 2021, making it only a year old. Its band read E8T, so it was dubbed as such until a proper nickname could be given. It was presumed to be female, as Joey was clearly trying to get her to nest with him. Joey made several nest scrapes for the new lady who, unfortunately, just wasn’t interested in raising chicks so close to the end of nesting season for plovers. However, both Joey and the new lady stuck around for a couple weeks together on site, showing fidelity to the beach and resources at NGTC which may bring both back to nest next year. Fingers are crossed for future success for Joey after such a tough season.

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