Click here to play

Read by Charley and Dave

Making a nest, incubating the egg and feeding chicks are all expected behaviours when caring for the young. But sometimes parents have to go further to make sure their chicks survive, particularly from predators.

Many species will nest in large groups so that predators find it harder to pick out a chick to prey upon. Others, such as puffins and storm petrels, nest in hard to reach locations, such as burrows, to keep their egg or chick further out of harms way. Plus, every species will defend their nesting site even from others of their own species to keep their young safe.

Gannets will warn off neighbours that get too close to their nest

Gannets will warn off neighbours that get too close to their nest

But one species in particular has a very special way of protecting their nest – the ringed plover. These small waders nest on open sand/shingle beaches, and although the eggs are well camouflaged predators can still be a problem.

Ringed plovers prefer to nest above the high water line on beaches of sand and very small pebbles

Ringed plovers prefer to nest above the high water line on beaches of sand and very small pebbles

Ringed plover nest

Ringed plover nest

Ringed plovers are too small to fend off a crow or gull through aggression so they use a more sneaky tactic, they pretend to be injured! A ringed plover will feign having a broken wing and run away from the nest, the predator, assuming the adult is now an easy target, will chase after it. Once the adult ringed plover has lured the predator far from the nest it will suddenly fly away. The predator now has not caught the adult nor is it able to find the nest having left it behind. The plover can then go back to incubating the eggs or caring for the chicks.

Ringed plover keeping chicks warm

Ringed plover keeping chicks warm

After putting so much time and effort into caring for the young the time eventually comes when the chicks will fledge. At this stage we don’t know for sure when the parental care stops. Some believes it is just before the chicks fledge – adults will leave the nest forcing the young to fledge to hunt for themselves. Some believe the adults wait for the chicks on the water when they fledge to spend some time hunting with them before migrating. It may even be that families stay together into the migration. We don’t know for sure but we are always trying to find out.

ECOLOGIST'S UPDATE

A large part of ecology work is to survey for and, where possible, control invasive species. This is done because invasive species often cause a lot of problems for native species by quickly adapting to and overtaking the environment they have been introduced to. An example of this is rats. Rats feed on pretty much anything, including human waste, and can easily stow aboard our transport unnoticed. As such wherever there are people there are rats.

Brown rat

Brown rat

This is a problem for ground nesting birds who have evolved in areas that shouldn't have rats as they have no protection from the predatory nature of these small rodents. Therefore knowing if rats are located anywhere near our birds is very important.

Ground nests, like plovers, are easy targets for introduced rats

Ground nests, like plovers, are easy targets for introduced rats

We are currently testing a number of locations around Alderney for rat presence through a project being undertaken by a university student from Nottingham, Nicci Cox. We will tell you about these surveys and their results later in the project.