2010-03-03 / Features

Endangered Bird Species Inhabits Queens Beaches

BY CRISTINA GUARINO

Reprint permission GFDL, Wikipedia.org. MDF Reprint permission GFDL, Wikipedia.org. MDF Residents of Queens do not have to look far to find wildlife. With the many parks, beaches, and other recreational areas overseen by the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, there is a wide variety of species in the borough.

Queens beaches provide a nesting ground for a near-endangered species of bird. The Charadrius melodus, commonly known as the piping plover and a threatened bird species, can be found along the East Coast, including Queens’ very own Rockaway Beach. It also inhabits the Great Lakes area, where it was designated in 1986 as endangered.

The birds stand at about seven to eight inches, with orange legs and beaks. They have white underbellies and sand-colored backs, wings and heads, as well as a black band around their necks. In the winter, this band disappears and their legs and beaks fade to a lighter color to promote camouflaging.

The popular use of beaches pose a danger to these birds, as they lay their eggs in small depressions in the sand known as “scrapes”; the only protection for these nests are small rings of shells that the mothers build around them, and the camouflaging color of the eggs and feathers. The species is especially in danger on beaches where animals are allowed, as dogs and cats often disturb the nests and kill the parents. Trash left behind by humans also attracts predators that feed on the eggs and chicks. Even though plovers often build their nests on higher sand structures that people are usually not permitted to walk on, such as sand dunes erected to protect surrounding homes from the ocean, storm tides that reach these dunes can destroy them.

When the chicks are hatched, they are taught to run to the water’s edge to feed on insects, crustaceans, and mollusks, and then flee immediately back to the scrapes; even this short commute can be dangerous, as their small stature and sand-col- ored feathers make them difficult to see and people can accidentally trample them.

The plovers have also been hunted for their feathers to decorate hats. Thanks to their protection under the Endangered Species Act, however, they are no longer legal game and their numbers are on the rise. In recent studies, the Atlantic population of these birds totaled about four thousand. The bird is also under protection of the federal Migratory Birds Convention Act.

The recovery plan for restoring the population of this species includes closing off certain beaches, predator control, fencing off nesting areas to protect from humans and predators and protection of federally administered breeding sites.

To help protect these populations when visiting Rockaway Beach and other East Coast beaches, beachgoers should be sure to keep all animals leashed, avoid littering and remain alert to their surroundings. A detailed outline of conservation and restoration strategies can be found on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Web site, www.fws.gov.

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