Run down

Tuesday, 14 November 2023

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Run down

Hooded Plover chicks killed by vehicle on the beach

Living along some of Australia’s most spectacular coastlines, Hooded Plovers don’t have it easy, because people are regularly drawn to the same beaches, especially during the warmer months, when the birds are breeding.

At this time, they are subjected to enormous levels of disturbance from people using the beach. The presence of people nearby can cause adult plovers to flee temporarily, leaving their eggs or downy young vulnerable to excessive overheating or cooling, or being taken by any number of predators.

Also, their eggs or chicks — both of which are highly camouflaged — are easily trodden on inadvertently by people (or their dogs) walking along the beach. So, when people drive vehicles along the beaches — usually at much greater than walking speed — they have virtually no chance of noticing a chick hiding on the sand, and beaches where Hooded Plover eggs/chicks and off-road vehicles coincide usually spells disaster for the birds.

“[Hooded Plover chicks] are almost impossible to see, they’re tiny, like a little pompom on stilts, and they really pretty much rely on their camouflage for the five weeks until they can fly,” explained Dr Dan Lees, BirdLife Australia’s Coastal Birds Program Officer.

Hoodies and other shorebirds being run down on beaches is sadly commonplace in South Australia, where recreational beach driving is a legal and popular activity, but in Victoria (where it’s generally illegal) beach birds being killed by vehicles is a much rarer occurrence — but it happens, nevertheless.

Portland, in the state’s west, has been the scene of several generations of Hooded Plovers being run down on the beach recently. The latest incident occurred on Cape Bridgewater beach last month, when two 3-week-old chicks were run over on the sand. It was the third such incident on this beach in the space of a year.

According to Dr Lees, the tiny birds were almost certainly killed by a car that was launching a boat at the beach after the nearest boat ramp was temporarily closed.

Vehicles launching boats are able to drive hundreds of metres along the beach at Cape Bridgewater to find a preferred spot to launch, rather than heading directly to the water, which Dr Lees said increases the likelihood of the birds being run over.

“We’ve been trying to put pressure on the Glenelg Council — not to get rid of the boat ramp, but just make it so that vehicles can only use the boat ramp to launch a boat,” Dr Lees said.

“If cars are going to be all up and down the beach the way they are able to now, then it [chicks getting run down] will keep happening,” he continued.

“We don’t want to stop people being able to put their boats in at the beach, it just needs to be done in a way that protects these birds.”

There is an easy solution: installing large rocks or bollards that would prevent cars from easily being able to drive along the beach, restricting them to a smaller area of the sand. Talks to resolve the matter are continuing.

If you would like to know more about BirdLife Australia’s Beach-nesting Birds Program and what it is doing to save the birds of our beaches, click here.