- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 23, 2017

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - New Hampshire’s Fish and Game Department say there are six pairs of piping plovers nesting along the sandy shores of Hampton and Seabrook - and they’re asking beachgoers to be aware of the endangered birds.

Biologist Brendan Clifford says the sooner the birds nest, the sooner the chicks will hatch and grow big enough to be able to fly. Once the chicks are about 30 days old, they can fly and escape from danger. At that point, the department can take down fences that protect their breeding habitat and open up the beach. He said the cool, wet spring, may be delaying some nesting this year.

“Our goal is to protect these rare birds during their breeding season and manage the beaches for both people and wildlife,” he said.

The state’s efforts are part of a regionwide protection program. From 1997 to 2016, 106 nesting pairs of plovers have fledged 142 chicks on the Seacoast. Overall, the Atlantic coast population of piping plovers is holding steady at slightly below 2,000 total pairs. The federal government has listed the bird as threatened.

Clifford said the first few weeks after hatching are the most crucial, because the chicks are very small and hard to see and extremely vulnerable to natural predators such as gulls, crows, foxes and domestic animals, including cats and dogs.

Sometimes people are a threat, he added.

“We have had occasional incidences where people have deliberately vandalized fencing meant to protect the birds and even stolen eggs right out of the nest,” Clifford said. “We are continuing to educate people in hopes of minimizing instances of human disturbance.”

The department is relying on volunteers to keep watch over the birds and is working with beach managers to coordinate raking and plover protection.

One of the department’s recommendations is to fill in any holes on the beach, which can act as sand traps for the tiny chicks that can’t fly.

The plovers grow to 6 to 7 ½ inches and are sand colored on top and white underneath, with a black ring around the neck.

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