Destruction of nests and eggs belonging to federally protected shorebirds on Long Island and in Queens has sparked $5,000 rewards from the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for information on whoever is responsible, authorities said Monday.
Since May, authorities have chronicled incidents at Jones Beach, Robert Moses State Park and a protected area of oceanfront beach in the Town of Southampton, just east of Shinnecock East County Park, officials said.
At Robert Moses, destruction of the nest of a piping plover, and destruction of a surrounding predator exclosure, occurred between May 23 and 24, officials said. The Jones Beach incident occurred between June 11 and 14 and involved the destruction of two piping plover nests and predator exclosures.
The incident in the Town of Southampton took place June 26 and involved unleashed dogs and the taking of eggs from a piping plover nest in a protected breeding area, officials said.
The Queens incidents all took place in May and June. The latest involves what federal authorities are calling the "intentional destruction" of at least one American oystercatcher egg. That happened at the border of the Breezy Point Co-Operative and the National Park Service's Gateway National Recreation Area Breezy Point Unit in Rockaway Point.
One instance that took place in Arverne in the Rockaways between May 13 and May 15 involved at least 57 American oystercatcher eggs and four piping plover eggs being taken from nests located between Beach 38th and Beach 57th streets, and under the jurisdiction of New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, according to officials.
Room to build nests and raise chicks is crucial for the two types of birds as well as others that live along the sandy waterfronts, said Shelby Casas, a program associate with the Audubon Society who is based at the Theodore Roosevelt Sanctuary and Audubon Center in Oyster Bay.
“In spring and summer, our beaches become a nursery for federally and state-protected birds like the piping plover, least tern, and American oystercatcher, " Casas said. "These birds make their nests directly in the sand, so they rely on beachgoers to give them space to nest and raise chicks. Apart from perceiving people and pets as threats, these birds face disturbance from predators and loss of habitat due to flooding and beach erosion."
American oystercatchers are protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and maximum penalties for the destruction or taking of each egg include up to six months in prison and a fine of $15,000, authorities said. The piping plover is protected as a threatened species under the federal Endagered Species Act — and maximum penalties include a fine of up to $25,000 and six months imprisonment for each egg taken or harm done to an individual bird.
Long before humans lived on Long Island, the plover called it home — on the north and south shores and on the bays, said Steve Sinkevich, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service based in Shirley at the agency’s Long Island field office.
Recreation, development, sand nourishment, fencing and other activities at Long Island beaches have combined to imperil the plover's survival, Sinkevich said.
Putting up a sand fence traps sand, which promotes beach grass growth on the dunes, and some of the bird species don’t like dense vegetation, he said. The density makes it difficult if not impossible for the species to raise families, feed and rest, according to Sinkevich.
Anyone with information on any of these incidents is being asked to call U.S. Fish and Wildlife special agent Kathryn McCabe at 516-825-3950 or contact a tip line at 1-844-FWS-TIPS.
With Matthew Chayes