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Fireworks display at Hampton Beach canceled in effort to protect endangered birds

Sunday night’s fireworks display at Hampton Beach in New Hampshire has been canceled to protect piping plovers, an endangered bird in New Hampshire, officials said.

The piping plovers are nesting in the beach area, according to the Hampton Beach Facebook page. The birds are protected under New Hampshire law, and it is illegal to harm, harass, injure, or kill them.

The piping plover is a small bird with a very short bill, according to the National Audubon Society’s website. The bird’s pale back often matches the white sand beaches and alkali flats that it inhabits.

“Many of its nesting areas are subject to human disturbance or other threats, and it is now considered an endangered or threatened species in all parts of its range,” according to the Audubon Society.

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Piping plover nests are roped off on beaches in Hampton and Seabrook so people will not disturb them, The New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game said on its website.

The birds, which are also protected under federal law, have been nesting in New Hampshire since about 1997, according to Brendan Clifford, a wildlife biologist with N.H. Fish and Game’s Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program who oversees the piping plover protection effort. The birds specifically started nesting on the beaches while they were closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.

Clifford said he doesn’t expect them to stop nesting there anytime soon.

“Once they nest in areas and are successful, they go back to those areas every year,” Clifford said.

He thinks there will be 16 pairs of plovers in New Hampshire this year, topping last year’s record of 13. One of the nests hatched Saturday, and another nest was just established, he said.

“They’re both within a half-mile of the fireworks, where they launch them, so it’s just too close, and they’ll be disturbed, and they’ll potentially abandon the nest, and that will potentially cause the eggs to die,” Clifford said. “So we recommended that the town not hold [the fireworks] to protect the birds.”

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Last year’s Memorial Day fireworks were cancelled in response to both the pandemic and the birds nesting on the beach, Clifford said. He expects the birds could affect Memorial Day fireworks displays for years to come.

“It’s something we’re going to have to work with the town to figure out kind of a management plan on how to do this, but it’s going to impact early fireworks for sure,” Clifford said.

He said Massachusetts has a habitat conservation plan: a federal permit that allows for birds to be discouraged from nesting in some areas as long as there’s a net benefit to them by enhancing other areas, or enhancing outreach or predator management.

“We could do that in New Hampshire, but it’s a very long, kind of onerous process to get, and it costs a lot of money to get that done,” Clifford said. “That may be the way we’re going if Hampton really wants their fireworks on Memorial Day, for example, but it’s just a big undertaking.”

In the meantime, Clifford said the the baby plover chicks can’t fly and he warned that they also don’t stay within the roped areas.

“So if you go to the beach in New Hampshire, be sure to “watch your step,” Clifford said.


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Adam Sennott can be reached at adam.sennott@globe.com.