There are two subspecies of hooded plover in Australia, the eastern and western subspecies which are separated by the Great Australia Bight.
The eastern hooded plover (Thinornis culcullatus culcullatus) is a medium-sized sandy-brown plover with a black head, a white nape and a bright red ring around each eye. Eastern Hoodies live and breed only on high energy sandy beach environments. They once occurred along the southeast coast of Australia between South Australia and southern Queensland, including Tasmania, but are now locally extinct in northern New South Wales and Queensland.
The western hooded plover (Thinornis cucullatus tregellasi) only occurs west of the Great Australian Bight in Western Australia. They breed on the south-west Western Australian coast, from Cape Naturaliste to The Great Australian Bight and more typically on lakes up to 250 kilometres inland.
The eastern Hoodies are not abundant and are listed as Vulnerable, under both National and Victorian Threatened Species Legislation. In Victoria, the highest densities of hooded plovers occur on wide beaches with large amounts of beach-washed seaweed. Hoodies require seaweed to provide habitat for their food source, seaweed eating invertebrates such as sand hoppers. Densities are lowest on narrow, steep beaches, where there are few or no dunes, and where human activities are most intensive (BirdLife Australia, 2012).
Outside of the breeding season, the adult and sub-adult birds flock to local beaches and coastal wetlands. They are not migratory but young birds can disperse looking for new territory and partners. The breeding season extends from late August into April. Towards the start of the breeding season the flocks disband and Hoodies pair up. Each pair occupies and defends a breeding territory on a surf beach. These pairings are for life but some Hoodies have been known to change partners. They do however generally return to their same breeding territory.
Hooded plovers have a very low reproductive survival rate. They have a nest failure rate of up to 95 percent, with one local pair having up to nine nesting attempts in a single season. Since 2006 on the Bellarine Peninsula and Surf Coast beaches, 61 percent of nests have failed to hatch any eggs, and 74 percent of hatched chicks have failed to fledge (BirdLife Australia data from 2006-2007 to 2015-2016).
Around September breeding pairs create a shallow scrape in the sand above the high-tide mark on the beach or in the dunes. Up to three camouflaged eggs are laid into the shallow scrape. The 28 day incubation period begins once all eggs have been laid.
New chicks are tiny, less than seven centimetres long, fluffy and highly camouflaged. They are mobile after hatching and must search for food to feed themselves. Parents warn the chicks of danger but do not feed them.
Chicks are flightless for the first five weeks. During this period they are highly vulnerable to a range of threats. The chicks are very mobile, ranging up to two kilometres along the beach to find food or shelter.
Where hoodies live in our region
The City of Greater Geelong supports 6.7 percent of the Victorian population (estimated at around 570 birds).
Our Hoodie population is part of the central hooded plover subpopulation which extends from Moggs Creek in the west to South Gippsland in the east.
Our local hooded plovers are a high priority population. This is because their central location facilitates emigration and immigration between neighbouring subpopulations.
The Bellarine Peninsula ocean beaches extend for 25 kilometres from Thompsons Creek in the west to the Point Lonsdale Lighthouse in the east. Local hoodie breeding sites have been recorded on various sections of these beaches (see Map A below).
Map A - Hooded plovers breed along the ocean coastline, there are eight main sites within the City of Greater Geelong.
We manage approximately nine kilometres of coast, spanning Thompsons Creek to Bancoora Beach, Breamlea and Ocean Grove to Point Lonsdale (see Map B below).
Map B - The distribution of hooded plover breeding areas in relation to coastal management boundaries.
The remaining 16 kilometres is managed by Barwon Coast Committee of Management, the Borough of Queenscliffe and Barwon Water. Adjoining Thompsons Creek, immediately to the west, the coast is managed by the Great Ocean Road Coast Committee and this is also a breeding area for hooded plovers.