Have you ever been to the Fire Island National Seashore (FINS), which includes the ocean beaches at Sailors Haven, Watch Hill, Robert Moses State Park, Smith Point County Park, and the Fire Island Lighthouse? If you were there in the spring, you may have noticed areas of fencing or string marking off areas in the sand. They are placed to protect Piping Plover nests.
I asked Ranger Pat Ryley of FINS some questions so we could learn more about these birds. Here’s what she had to share.
Q: Do Piping Plovers stay on Long Island all year, or do they migrate south for the winter? What can you tell us about their migrating habits?
Piping Plovers migrate south to Florida coasts and the Caribbean. Surprisingly, they do not follow the coastline but rather fly directly to their winter home. They began to arrive on Fire Island beaches in March, and they will stay until their chicks are fledged in late August.
Q: Can you explain the difference between threatened and endangered? What are Piping Plovers classified as on Long Island?
Endangered means a species is in danger of extinction in all or most of its range. Threatened means a species is likely to become endangered in the near future. Piping Plovers are federally (across the United States) threatened but in New York State they are endangered.
Q: Are any animals on Fire Island predators of Piping Plovers?
Yes, fox and raccoons will hunt Piping Plovers, their eggs, and baby chicks. Gulls and other large shorebirds will also kill and eat Plover chicks.
Q: What can people do to help protect Piping Plovers when they visit the beach?
A nearby threat may cause Piping Plover parents to abandon their nests. So, it’s very important that beach visitors do not frighten Piping Plovers.
People can help by avoiding areas where Piping Plovers build their nests, such as on the beach close to the dunes. Be especially cautious of areas that are marked off by "symbolic fencing" such as flagged string stretched between poles. This indicates that a nest is close by.
All dogs (this includes service animals) are perceived as predators, so they are not permitted on any beaches where Piping Plovers nest. The shadow of a kite is seen as an aerial predator, so kite flying is not permitted on beaches where Plovers nest. Tiny chicks must make their way to the water's edge to feed, so be cautious when walking and playing on the beach near Piping Plover nesting areas.
Thank you, Ranger Pat! For more information, stop in at the ranger station when you visit the beach, or read about animals, plants, and other wonders of nature on the FINS website.
About Ranger Pat:
Patricia Whitlock Ryley has been fascinated by nature since her childhood summers in the Fire Island wilderness communities of Long Cove and Whalehouse Point. Following careers as an officer in the US Navy and an ESL teacher in Greece, Pat has been with the National Park Service at Fire Island National Seashore since 2014, where she enjoys sharing her love of Fire Island with park visitors.