By Joe Reynolds
On this chilly weekend with temperatures in the 50s and low 60s, the Piping Plovers decided it was time to start a family. Around the coastal ocean beaches of Sandy Hook, located downstream from New York City, were several nest sites. In addition, several pairs of plovers were nesting at Breezy Point, located across the bay in the borough of Queens.
Mother plovers were sitting on and incubating what will hopefully be the next generation. There might be 4 eggs, sometimes 2 to 3, but rarely 5 under the loving feathers of mom. Incubation will average 26 to 28 days.
(The National Park Service at Gateway will put a nesting cage over each active Piping Plover nest to provide some degree of protection from hungry predators. String fences and signs are there to keep people away.)
It all starts with the nest. Piping Plover over the last several days were busy building their nest located on the open sandy dune area some distance away from the water, often with a good amount of shells strewn about and clumps of grasses growing nearby. The nest itself is just a shallow scrape in the sand that is loosely lined with tiny shells and pebbles.
Now the waiting game will begin to see how many plovers will have successful nests. Unfortunately, it will not be easy for the plovers to protect their eggs. There are many threats.
The eggs are easy targets for opportunistic predators such as foxes, gulls and crows, who will eat anything they can find. In addition, the plovers nest at a time of frequent southwesterly winds and fierce spring storms that create high waves, so birds that build their nests too close to the high-tide line risk losing their eggs in the surf. What's more, since humans are viewed by the birds as predators, human activity around the nesting area can place so much stress on a bird that it will stop feeding. The resulting loss of energy reserves can jeopardize its survival. Not a good thing when your nest in close proximity to a highly urban region.
When you visit a beach this spring or summer, please respect all areas fenced or posted for protection of wildlife, and don't approach or linger near Piping Plovers or their nests. Also, please don't leave or bury trash or food scraps on beaches. Garbage attracts predators which may prey upon Piping Plover chicks or eggs.
The plovers are off to a good start, let's do all we can to make sure that each Piping Plover family is healthy and happy this breeding season near New York Harbor.