Hoodies in the Mallacoota hood: Awareness of vulnerable beach birds' plight grows

In the hood: Hooded plovers under shelters at Betka Beach, Mallacoota. Photo: Leonie Daws
In the hood: Hooded plovers under shelters at Betka Beach, Mallacoota. Photo: Leonie Daws

They might be tiny, but hooded plovers have gained a huge following around Mallacoota beaches.

Thanks to social media campaigns and a handful of dedicated "plover lovers", awareness of the plight of the threatened beach-nesting birds has spread throughout the town and beyond.

With spring marking the beginning of the vulnerable nesting season, Leonie Daws and the Friends of Mallacoota are already on the job amping up this season's "hoodie" campaign.

Early morning at Betka Beach, one of Mallacoota's most popular tourist destinations - despite spitting rain and a southerly bluster blowing through to her bones - Leonie stands on the shoreline, binoculars raised and focused intently on a small sand dune.

"I haven't seen them so far this season, so there's a chance they're not around, but last year was a good year so we're hopeful," she said.

"Good" meaning last season, the group surveyed two successful nests.

With only 6000 hoodies left in the world, Leonie considers three chicks making it to "fledgling" stage a huge success. The previous year, of four nestings documented in Mallacoota, only one hoodie made it to fledgling status. And the season before that none survived past a week. Although they are a threatened species world wide, the hoodies in the 'Coota hood have it extra tough than others.

"Unfortunately the Mallacoota hoodies are prone to nesting a little later in the season - around early October right up until Christmas. This leaves them vulnerable to all sorts of threats, including dogs off leashes and the busy summer period."

However, with the help of educating the community through social media campaigns as well as fencing off the nesting sites and creating small triangular protective shelters, Leonie said things are looking up for the hoodies. Even though sharing their beaches is not ideal, it can be seen as a "mixed blessing."

Surveying the site: Hooded Plover expert Leonie Daws searching for resident hoodies at Betka Beach, Mallacoota. Photo: Rachel Mounsey

Surveying the site: Hooded Plover expert Leonie Daws searching for resident hoodies at Betka Beach, Mallacoota. Photo: Rachel Mounsey

"In some places, beaches have been deemed completely off limits. That's not an option here. Betka is one of the safest places [for swimming].

"It's always going to be a compromise between the needs of the people and the hoodies.

"Through their presence here awareness of the shorebirds' struggle has grown and now more people are becoming engaged and proactive."

Every season Leonie and the friends keep the community informed by posting ongoing updates and photos about the local hoodies. Over the years the page has gained momentum with locals and visitors to the area.

"Even before they come to Mallacoota people ask about the hoodies. They are visiting prepared and aware. The hoodies are becoming quite popular," Leonie said, adding that education about keeping dogs on leashes around hoodie prone areas is making all the difference.

"If they [hoodies] feel threatened they will leave the nest and if a dog is around they can take three times longer to return to the nest, leaving the eggs exposed to temperatures - if it's too hot or too cold , the eggs will fail."

As the spitting eases slightly, Leonie lifts her binoculars for one last look and swiftly spots a couple of hooded plovers who have come out of hiding at the edge of the dune.

"Well there you go" she said with a huge smile, "They are here. I'd better go grab my camera and let people know."

Surveying the site: Hooded Plover expert Leonie Daws searching for vulnerable Hooded Plovers at Betka Beach, Mallacoota. Photo: Rachel Mounsey

Surveying the site: Hooded Plover expert Leonie Daws searching for vulnerable Hooded Plovers at Betka Beach, Mallacoota. Photo: Rachel Mounsey