A young Piping plover observed recently at Sandy Hook, NJ
By Joe Reynolds
NY Harbor Nature
Usually by the second week of August around New York Harbor Piping plover chicks have all fledged, which is the ability of a young bird to fly with muscles strong enough and feathers large enough for flight.
The young birds will need to learn to fly fast and firm. By early September many adults and young will all have departed for a long winged migration to wintering areas on tidal flats and sandy beaches down south, from North Carolina to Texas and along the coast of eastern Mexico and on Caribbean islands from Barbados to Cuba and the Bahamas. Many Piping plovers travel from breeding areas to wintering grounds in one long nonstop flight.
It’s not easy either growing up around New York Harbor. Piping plovers have many natural enemies including raccoons, foxes, crows, gulls and other birds and mammals who have a never-ending desire to feed on eggs, chicks and on an occasional adult bird. Storms, spring high tides and other tidal flooding events often wash away nests or drown young flightless chicks. People too can cause stress by getting exceedingly close to nesting sites during the breeding season or by leaving trash on a beach, which will attract raccoons, foxes and other hungry predators.
A Piping plover nest at Sandy Hook, NJ surrounded by sand bags to protect it from tidal flooding and within a wired cage to help protect the nest from predator attacks.
Typically, an adult female plover will lay and care for between 3 to 4 pale bluff eggs. But not all eggs will survive, and not all Piping plover chicks will survive to fledge. Usually only one chick will survive per pair every year, at best maybe two.
So it was with some excitement that I observed quite a few young Piping Plovers chicks doing alright. It was around mid to late July near the tip of Sandy Hook, located at the entrance to New York Harbor.
I saw about a half-a-dozen healthy looking chicks, all with flight feathers coming in, meaning flight was not far off. A really good sign.
The young plovers were foraging and feeding on their own, seeking small worms and other small marine invertebrates. Learning how to care for themselves and gaining strentgh.
One parent was still around to watch over the young birds, at least until they are fully-grown and able to fly on their own. Commonly the mother withdraws from a nest a few days after hatching and will leave the male to care for the young alone. The young are capable of sustained flight and considered to be fully grown or fledged at about 25-35 days of age after hatching.
Let’s hope this generation of Piping plovers raised around New York Harbor will help to rebound the population and contribute to increasing populations elsewhere.
But this will not be easy. While population numbers for last year are slightly up, there's still work to be done to get the birds off the endangered species list. The Piping plover is a protected species under the Endangered Species Act. Along the Atlantic Coast and around New York Harbor it’s designated as a federally threatened species and state endangered in New York and New Jersey, which means the population would most likely decline if not protected.
Things You Can Do to Help Protect the Piping plover
STOP THE WILLIAMS FRACKED GAS PIPELINE THROUGH NY HARBOR!
MY TOP 5 FAVORITE BOOKS ABOUT NY HARBOR
1. Field Guide to the Neighborhood Birds of New York City by Leslie Day
2.Heartbeats in the Muck by John Waldman
3. The Fisheries of Raritan Bay by Clyde L. MacKenzie Jr.
4. Waterfront: A Walk Around Manhattan by Phillip Lopate
5. The Bottom of the Harbor by Joseph Mitchell