A Hooded Plover fledgling stretches its wings on the rocky sand at Aldinga Beach.

Published on 10 July 2024

Keeping them safe

Watching a Hooded Plover breeding season unfold can be a rollercoaster of emotions – just ask volunteer, Sally Shaw.

The environmentally focused Aldinga resident moved to Onkaparinga’s coast from the Adelaide Hills three years ago and became interested in the threatened nesting shorebirds’ plight when she began walking her greyhound at Port Willunga beach.

She noticed BirdLife Australia was looking for volunteers to help monitor the birds and jumped at the opportunity – having now been volunteering for two years, mostly at Port Willunga. Sally is one of eight volunteers at the location, who dedicated more than 1,200 hours on the beach in 2023–24!

This past breeding season (August to March or April) was a record for Onkaparinga’s beaches with seven fledged chicks (grown big enough to fly). But, as Sally can attest, even a successful season has its ups and downs when it comes to protecting Australia’s most threatened beach-nesting birds from extinction.

“We’re always very excited to see the fledglings finally fly after their development period of five-to-six weeks,” she said.

“BirdLife Australia started working on Hooded Plover conservation in 2006 when they realised their numbers on Fleurieu beaches were drastically dropping. Since then, BirdLife Australia experts and volunteers have gathered more and more valuable information about these remarkable birds.

“As volunteers we’re often called ‘Plover Lovers’. This might sound strange but it’s true!

As we get to know the Hooded Plovers, some of which we’ve named, we’re in awe of their remarkable resilience and astonishing parenting skills. Can you imagine sitting on three eggs 24/7, regularly swapping with your partner, for four weeks in all weathers?”

One of the most remarkable stories Sally has watched in her time, has been the journey of Harvey – a Hooded Plover that got its name following an Onkaparinga Now and Southern Times Messenger public naming competition in 2019.

“Harvey is 10 years old, and in the 2022–23 season he and his new partner fledged one chick, followed by four fledged chicks in 2023–24,” she said.

“As volunteers, we consider Harvey a remarkable father. He and his partner will often take their chicks to Gull Rock reef [Port Willunga/Maslin Beach] where they can feed on the tiny insects.

“This area can become increasingly busy with surfers, people fishing, walkers and dogs, but remarkably Harvey has been able to keep his chicks safe. If we can’t find the chicks we’ll often say ‘I bet Harvey has hidden them away somewhere safe’.

“A detection fox camera was set up near Harvey and his partner’s nest and last year when we had the torrential rain, water poured down from the cliffs and swirled all round one of the parents, who continued to incubate the eggs in its sand nest. It was an astonishing piece of footage.”

Sally said it’s also incredible to watch the way Hooded Plover parents communicate with their chicks during the first five weeks of their lives, using bird noises to warn them of dangers, tell them to crouch quietly in the sand where they’re camouflaged, or hide in long grasses.

“On occasions, one parent can be seen sheltering them [chicks] under their chest to keep them warm – it’s a funny sight as the chick looks to have disappeared and all you can see is their legs.”

Despite these magic moments, volunteers also witness their fair share of tragedy, and the 2023–24 breeding season was no different.

“It’s sad when we lose chicks to predators, such as the elusive fox,” she said.

“In 2023–24 season the pair at Port Willunga South (near Star of Greece) laid three eggs on six occasions, but lost all 18 eggs to foxes and then gave up, which was very sad.”

“Green Adelaide has provided funds for Nessie, a detection dog, to seek out live fox dens, which are then fumigated, but it’s a huge task and only so many live dens can be detected. Nessie can also only find dens on public land, so we need private landowners to take appropriate fox culling action should they find a den.”

Sally said unleashed dogs are also a key threat to Hooded Plovers on Australia’s beaches and have reportedly led to a chick being killed in Onkaparinga before.

“However well trained they are, dogs are natural predators, so when they see what looks like a fluffy little ball running all over the beach, they naturally chase it,” she said.

It’s the reason the volunteers spend so much time on the beach reminding dog walkers to leash their dogs – not only within 100 metres of a Hooded Plover dog on-leash zone sign as per the council’s by-law, but also when volunteers have spotted chicks looking for food outside these zones.

“We found it necessary to be there to ensure dog walkers leashed their dogs, especially when chicks are busy finding tiny invertebrates in the wet sand and in the seaweed deposited by the tides,” she said.

“Sadly, a small but significant number of people are resistant [to following signs or volunteer advice].”

Despite this, Sally said overall attitudes are changing for the better.

“Things have improved at Port Willunga beach where the volunteers have over time forged good relationships with many members of the public, especially dog walkers,” she said.

“We find creative ways to inform the public – training new volunteers, speaking on the local radio, at local schools and the Willunga Farmers Market, and posting updates on the Hoodies Down South Facebook page.

“The council writes stories in Onkaparinga Now, and BirdLife Australia do a lot of behind-the-scenes coordinating with volunteers, the council and Green Adelaide. We’re grateful for the change in attitude of many people who visit Port Willunga beach. A number have become Hooded Plover ambassadors and some even ask to become a volunteer!”

Sally said it was important to keep moving forward on a positive note following the record 2023–24 season.

“This can only happen with a trusting collaborative effort from the public, which includes dog walkers, surfers, snorkelers, fisher persons, the council and BirdLife Australia volunteers,” she said.

“My message to beachgoers is please show respect and care for these remarkable beach birds. Get to know them by reading the updates on the Port Willunga ramp, Hoodies Down South Facebook page, Onkaparinga Now, friendly interactions with the volunteers, and by following the guidance of the Hooded Plover council signage.

“Our actions can endanger these birds, but small changes can have positive impacts.”

To learn more about Hooded Plovers, visit the Green Adelaide and BirdLife Australia websites. The Hoodie Helper group welcomes new volunteers. Please visit the Beach-nesting Birds Hub webpage for more information.

The council’s role

The City of Onkaparinga receives daily Hooded Plover updates from BirdLife Australia volunteers during breeding season about their fencing and signage needs. The council’s Natural Areas Conservation team supplies equipment for temporary fencing which is installed in partnership with trained volunteers when a nest is found.

Council rangers patrol local beaches to assist the public to comply with advice on the best ways to help the birds thrive. The rangers meet with members of BirdLife Australia and volunteers at the start of each breeding season to discuss training initiatives and protective measures to assist in the protection of the Hooded Plovers.


A Hooded Plover fledgling stretches its wings at Aldinga Beach. Photo by Diane Randall.