‘These hazards [natural predators and unusually high tides] have always been present but there are now a number of new ones. Sandy beaches are part of the Australian way of life and many Hooded Plovers now find their territories invaded by swimmers, surfers, sunbathers, dog-walkers and fishermen, a particularly acute problem as the seasons of human holidays and plovers breeding overlap.’ – Waders The Shorebirds of Australia David Hollands and Clive Minton 2012

 

 

Hooded Plover Fact File

 

Alternative names:

English; Hooded Dotterel, Hoody.

Other languages; Batuíra-de-cara-preta, Chorito Encapuchado, Corriere monaco, corriol capnegre, dirl-dirl, Hættepræstekrave, Kappenregenpfeifer, kulík černohlavý, kulík kapucňový, mustapäätylli, Pluvier à camail, sapkás lile, sieweczka czarnogłowa, Svarthodelo, Svarthuvad strandpipare, weissnackenregenpfeifer, Zwartkopplevier, Австралийский зуёк, ズグロチドリ, 黑头鸻, 翎鴴.

Scientific Name: Thinornis cucullatus

Thinornis Greek; this beach or sand; ornis bird. Gray 1845
cucullatus Late Latin; hooded, cucullus hood. Vieillot 1818

Former scientific names:

Genus:

Charadrius – Late Latin; yellowish bird mentioned in Vulgate Bible (late 4th Century). This from Greek; kharadrios plain-coloured nocturnal bird dwelling in ravines and river valleys, kharadra ravine. Linnaeus 1758
Hiaticula – Latin hiatus meaning means a cleft and colere meaning to dwell, so a cleft dweller. Linnaeus 1758
Aegialitis – Greek; aigialitis inhabitant of the seashore. Aegialitis is a synonym of Charadrius. (Aegialitis applied to a genus of two shrubby mangrove species of plant.)

Species:

C. rubricollisrubricollis; Latin; ruber red; collis necked. Gmelin 1789
This species was first collected in Adventure Bay, Tasmania, Australia on Captain James Cook’s third voyage of discovery in 1777; however, it was not named until 1789 by German naturalist Johann Friedrich Gmelin. This description was not taken from the specimen, which does not seem to have survived the passage of time, but probably from a drawing made by the ship’s surgeon’s mate on HMS Discovery, William Ellis. The name rubricollis is odd as there is no rufous in the neck or collar of the bird. This was due to some confusion with another species (Red-necked Phalarope Phalaropus lobatus – see below).

There was a great deal of debate before the name was changed to cucullatus from rubricollis. Due to the scientific system for nomenclature, which rigidly applies the oldest valid name available (rubricollis was the first name given), however inappropriate the scientific name may turn out to be (see also Far Eastern Curlew Numenius madagascariensis). (However, see next paragraph.)

C. cucullatus  – Late Latin; cucullatus hooded from cucullus meaning hood. Vieillot, 1818
In 1818 Louis Pierre Vieillot a French ornithologist gave this bird the specific name of cucullatus as opposed to the previously given rubricollis. The rubricollis name could not be deemed invalid simply because it is not accurate, but it is now considered to be invalid as the description was based on more than one illustration; one species being Red-necked Phalarope the other Hooded Plover. This led to calls for the original description to be invalid as it does not refer uniquely to this species. Given that. the argument then is that cucullatus becomes the oldest available valid name for this taxon and should replace rubricollis.

H. monacha – Late Latin; monacha is meaning monk, although that itself derives from the Greek monakhos with the same meaning.Gould 1838
John Gould saw this bird in 1838 and he called it Hiaticula monarcha. Hiaticula is now used for the specific name of Common Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula. This reference to a monk clearly comes from the hooded effect of the black head; rather more apt than rubricollis and equally as apt as cucullatus.

A. cucullatus. Sharpe 1906

Subspecies:

Monotypic but two recognised by some authorities: cucullatus and tregellasi – After Thomas Henry Tregellas (1864 – 1938). Mathews 1912

Taxonomy:

DNA analysis suggests that all plovers originated in South America and that the Hooded Plovers in Australia are there because of colonisation from South America as they are more closely related to Killdeer Charadrius vociferus and Semipalmated Plover Charadrius semipalmatus than to Red capped Plover Charadrius ruficapillus or Inland Dotterel Charadrius australis which seem to have colonised earlier.

Distribution:

Total population estimated at 7,000 mature individuals; decreasing. The eastern population (cucullatus) is around 3,000 and restricted to the coastline with 1,730 on Tasmania. The western population (tregellasi) is around 4,000.

Habitat preference:

In the east of its range most Hooded Plovers occur on exposed, sandy, oceanic beaches behind which lay sand dunes and are strewn with copious quantities of beached seaweed. Fewer dwell beaches populated by humans especially if they are lacking in dunes and are narrow and steep. In the west of their range, they also occur on inland salt lakes.

Breeding:

August to March, or later depending on opportunity or necessity of second or subsequent clutches.

Monogamous sometimes for a number of years. Solitary and territorial; site faithful. Both parents brood when the clutch is complete and care for precocial young; no feeding takes place. Usually 2 or 3 eggs are laid, rarely 4. Incubation takes between 27 and 31 days. Distraction displays are employed to protect young. Fledging tales place between 33 and 39 days after hatching.

A single season can last for 8 months where many breeding attempts can be made. If a second attempt is made after successful fledgling the fledged young are evicted from the territory.

Chicks run and hide under boulders and other items on the beach providing them with shelter and protection from aerial attack. For this reason, the species often uses chick shelters provided for them by conservation organisations.

May breed at one year old.

Nest:

The Hooded Plover excavates a shallow scrape in sand or fine gravel situated above the high-tide mark on ocean beaches or among dunes. This nest may be encircled or lined with pebbles, seaweed and other beach debris. Usually one or two eggs hatch after about 30 days of incubation and the downy young leave the nest within a day or two. Its incubation period is longer than that of other Australasian-breeding plovers.

Migration:

Basically, non-migratory but some localised movements do occur, winter numbers consistently higher in some areas suggesting movement to that area outside the breeding season and dispersal for breeding. In the east birds move to salt lakes adjacent to beaches or may move to islands as far as 20 -70 km offshore. In the west birds move to salt lakes further inland. Inland breeders move to the coast.

Habits:

Both diurnal and nocturnal. Usually in pairs, small groups or family groups. In eastern Australia, the Hooded Plover inhabits sandy ocean beaches that are exposed and constantly under threat from wind and waves. When feeding they pick tiny invertebrates from the sand near the water’s edge, rushing forward to seize prey as the wave recedes, in Sanderling-like fashion. It can be found feeding at all levels of the beach depending on the state of the tide. A busy bird, often scurrying about the beach when it stops abruptly in typical plover fashion. Often bobs its head.

In the west, Hooded Plovers are also recorded on ocean beaches, but they are just as likely to be seen foraging at inland salt lakes, sometimes hundreds of kilometres from the coast.

Hooded Plovers are wary of human intrusion and do not allow close approach. For this reason, they are easily disturbed from the nest, even at a distance. When evading an intruder, they walk slowly until they reach the edge of their territory or are happy the intruder has passed its chosen position, whereupon it will take flight and double back over the sea to resume its previous activity be that incubating or feeding.

Food:

The Hooded Plover’s diet includes Amphipods, isopods, polychaetes, bivalves, gastropods, crabs, insects including dragonflies, beetles and flies, seeds, sandhoppers, small bivalves, and soldier crabs. At high tide Hooded Plovers can be found foraging in seaweed, and debris the tide line. When feeding on rocks it remains near the water and finds prey in the wave-wash or the area of rocks where spray from crashing waves lands. On lagoons and lakes, they can be found on dry or moist areas or in shallow water. At night it feeds by constantly pecking using a tactile technique. Outside the breeding season they often forage in loose flocks of between 10 and 40 individuals, exceptionally these flocks may involve hundreds of birds.

Vital statistics:

19–23 cm; 79–110 g; wingspan 36–44 cm.

Eggs:

36 x 27cm weighing an estimated 13.2g. 1 (12% of clutches), 2 (30% of clutches), 3 (58% of clutches) and occasionally 4 eggs found between August and March, of which usually only one or two hatch. Some eggs are found later due to replacement and second clutches. The eggs are laid in one to four-day intervals. Incubation lasts between 27 and 31 days and carried out by both parents after the clutch is complete. Hatching success rate 17-31%.

Plumage:

The Hooded Plover has a black head and a white nape and underparts. A black collar on the hindneck below the white nape extends to the shoulder and terminates in a fork, one part of which often meets the hood separating the nape from the underparts. The mantle and upperparts are grey to sandy grey. In flight there is a broad white bar across the upper wing secondaries and primaries which are otherwise black. The underwing is white with the tips to the primaries and secondaries dark. The sides of the tail are white with the centre dark grey to black. Males and females are similar. Juveniles resemble adults, but lack the black head, hindneck and upper mantle. The throats and chin are white, and the sandy brown head is flecked with white with a vague supercilium. The collar is dark brown and indistinct the back, which is sandy-brown. Upperpart feathers pale tipped with a narrow, pale brown subterminal band.

Bare Parts:

Bill mainly red with a little less than half of black towards the tip. The legs are flesh, no hind toe. Eye dark brown, with a red orbital ring. Juvenile bare parts are less intense in colour being paler all round. The amount of red on the bill is less extensive being just at the base and slightly larger on the lower mandible extending below the nostrils.

Voice:

Rather silent. Flight call a low-pitched guttural “kew-kew”. Also, gravelly chatters. When agitated higher pitched

Conservation Status:

Vulnerable IUCN up listed the species from Near Threatened to Vulnerable in 2012.

The Hooded Plover’s conservation status was changed due to it having a small population which is undergoing continuing declines of over 10% in three generations (39 years). Monitoring effort have shown this decline has been recorded in all eastern states in which the bird is found. Monitoring in the west has been less intensive but still shows declines which contribute to an overall decline of >10% for the whole species.

The Hooded Plover is listed as an Endangered Species on Schedule 1 of the New South Wales Threatened Species Conservation Act, 1995 (TSC Act). It is also listed as a Vulnerable Species on Schedule 1 of the Commonwealth Endangered Species Protection Act, 1992. (See Threats below)
Australia – Vulnerable
NSW – Critically Endangered
SA – Vulnerable
TAS – Secure
VIC – Vulnerable
WA – Secure

Threats:

The survival of the Hooded Plover depends on it being able to find undisturbed beaches to enable it to breed successfully.

During the seasons 2006-7 and 2007-8, the beach nesting birds study found 90 pairs of Hooded Plovers in about 500km of beach. These pairs made 150 nesting attempts on each season. The maximum number of attempts made by an individual pair was 6. This looks on paper to be quite good, but success rates were very low with two thirds of nests lost before hatching, each year around 350 eggs were laid but only 140 hatched. Attrition rate was worse for chicks. Of the 140 hatched each year less than a quarter fledged. The biggest cause for egg loss was tidal surges. Foxes Vulpes vulpes and domestic dogs accounted for large numbers of both eggs and chicks. Human disturbance was also noted and inexplicably some chicks were killed by other hoodies!

Recent declines in eastern Australia have been shown to be directly linked to reduced breeding success due to disturbance from people, dogs, horses and in particular off-road vehicles. The chosen beaches of the Hooded Plover are also those which humans prefer for recreational activities. Accidental destruction of the nests happens as they are not easy to see, and therefore avoid. Prolonged disturbance causes unattended eggs to overheat or cool depending on the weather at the time. When this happens the chick inside the egg can die and the egg will not hatch. Once the chicks have hatched, they are certainly not any safer. Disturbance will cause them to flee using energy they cannot afford to lose. The chick will run to hide and whilst engaged in this game of hide and seek will not be able to feed. Too frequent or prolonged exposure to this sort of pressure can lead to starvation for the chick.

The Hooded Plover is susceptible to abnormally high water levels which can be caused by storms and flooding as they often breed close to the high-water tidal strand.

In Western Australia habitat degradation due to cattle grazing and water abstraction for agriculture are the main causes for concern, but the declines in that population are not as severe. Recent events involving the permitting of racehorse training on Hooded Plover nesting beaches is adding additional pressure that the birds can ill afford to absorb.

Predation by introduced foxes means that the possibilities for successful breeding are greatly reduced. In one event, during a single night a fox wiped out an entire beach nesting colony by systematically destroying the eggs and chicks of a large number of birds; almost the entire colony was destroyed. Pairs that escaped this fate deserted their nests, so effectively one fox wiped out an entire nesting colony of plovers and terns in one night. This is difficult to combat, as long as a single fox is abroad at nesting time, this is always a possibility.

Native species too, such as gulls and crows, which have increased due to human activity, are also dangerous neighbours for eggs and chicks. On beaches that are smooth the constant comings and goings of the birds leave a pattern that will also pinpoint the nest position which corvids, in particular, have learned to recognise. Some corvids even watch and wait while researchers are on the beach hoping to learn the whereabouts of the nests they hope to monitor.

Along the coast of Australia there is much urbanisation bringing more pressure on the beaches and their birds due to disturbance and also destruction of suitable habitat.

Current conservation efforts:

BirdLife Australia’s Beach-nesting Birds project has been working with community volunteers across Australia since 2006 to achieve the following:
Raise awareness among beach users about beach-nesting birds
Train local volunteers to monitor beach-nesting birds, identify threats and improve management
Protect eggs and chicks through temporary fencing, signage, artificial shelters
Research new ways of protecting birds and improving breeding success

The project is continuing with the Action recovery plan which has been put in place; monitoring continues and continues with fox control;. Fencing and chick shelter implementation.
In-place research and monitoring

Current research projects:

Beach Nesting Birds project: Birdlife Australia, see above.

Curiosities:

Hooded Plovers have an unusual moult strategy. Most species moult when they are using the minimum amount of energy, avoiding migration, breeding and cold winter periods squeezing the moult in between them. Of course, Hooded Plover don’t migrate, and nor do they suffer extremely low temperatures in the winter, so you’d have thought it was be easy to avoid the breeding season. However, researchers have found that Hooded Plovers started moulting their primary feathers at the onset of the breeding season instead of after it as is more usual. In most wader species the primary moult is relatively rapid, (Red Knot Calidris canutus, Sanderling Calidris alba and Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres 95 -119 days, Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea 129 days, Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola and Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola 131 days), but Hooded Plovers achieved a record-breaking period of 210 days for males and 170 days for females. This meant that the females showed less extensive overlap of moult and breeding.

Also, unique as far as we know to Hooded Plovers, is the two-speed nature of the moult. Birds can moult multiple feathers at the same time making the moult faster than when they do so one at a time. Most species adopt one or other of these strategies, but more intriguing is that an individual bird may be able to do both and even switch from one to the other if needs be.

Quite why Hooded Plovers adopt this moult strategy is, as yet, unknown. It has been suggested that there may be a shortage of food in the winter months, so the extra energy needed to moult is not available. It may be linked to the need to have multiple attempts at breeding, and therefore an extended breeding season, since the species has a low success rate. A slow and flexible moult may help them to adjust their energy needs, investing energy in the imperative to reproduce ahead of the need to moult.

It has been observed, that there seems to be an association between Hooded Plovers and Pied Oystercatchers Haematopus longirostris when breeding. The nests of Hooded Plovers are often found in close proximity to the nests of Pied Oystercatchers, even on large and extensive, otherwise empty beaches. Observations suggest that the Pied Oystercatcher nests first and the Hooded Plover pair chooses to nest nearby. Quite why this is so is unknown, but as the Pied Oystercatcher has an appallingly low nesting success rate, if it is as a form of protection, the Hooded plover is living under false pretences and perhaps the perceived view that the proximity of the larger bird affords some measure of security is misguided.

Hooded Plover was the third pin badge in the Wader Quest Collectables series.

The Hooded Plover as its own facebook page.

There is also a winery in New South Wales going by the name of the Hooded Plover Winery.

Needless to say the only country that carries a stamp depicting the Hooded Plover is Australia where an artwork appears on the 5¢ stamp.

 

Gallery

All photographs by Elis Simpson – Wader Quest unless otherwise stated.

Artwork thumbnail by Rick Simpson

Bibliography:

BirdLife International (2019) Species factsheet: Thinornis cucullatus. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 30/05/2019.

BirdLife International 2016. Thinornis cucullatus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T22693883A93429190. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-3.RLTS.T22693883A93429190.en. Downloaded on 30 May 2019.

Geering, Andrew, Lindsay Agnew & Sandra Harding: Shorebirds of Australia (2007)

Hollands, David, & Clive Minton: Waders The Shorebirds of Australia (2012)

Hayman, Peter, John Marchant & Tony Prater: Shorebirds (1986)

del Hoyo, Josep, Andrew Elliot & Jordi Sargatal: Handbook of the Birds of the World – Vol. 3 (1996)

Jobling, James A.: Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names (2010)

Johnsgard, Paul A.: The Plovers, Sandpipers, and Snipes of the World (1981)

Lane, Brett A. & Jeff N. Davies: Shorebirds in Australia (1987)

Remisiewicz, Magdalena, Anthony J. Tree, Les G. Underhill, Anna Gustowska & P. Barry Taylor
Extended Primary Moult as an Adaptation of Adult Wood Sandpipers Tringa glareola to Their Freshwater Habitats in Southern Africa. Ardea, 97(3):271-280 (2009)

Rogers, K.G, D.I. Rogers, & M.A Weston: Prolonged and flexible primary moult overlaps extensively with breeding in beach-nesting Hooded Plovers Thinornis rubricollis. IBIS 156: 840-849 (2014)

Rosair, David & David Cotteridge: Photographic guide to the Waders of the World (1995)

Taylor, Sue: John Gould’s Extinct & Endangered Birds of Australia (2012)

Oiseaux,net www.oiseaux.net/oiseaux/pluvier.a.camail.html

Birdlife Australia https://birdlife.org.au/bird-profile/hooded-plover

HBW live https://www.hbw.com/species/hooded-plover-thinornis-cucullatus

BOU https://www.bou.org.uk/hooded-plover-moult/