Editor’s note: This article describes the destruction of nests and eggs of protected and vulnerable bird species. It may not be suitable for some readers.
The National Park Service (NPS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) are offering a reward of up to $5,000 for information leading to the conviction of the person or persons responsible for the intentional destruction of at least one American Oystercatcher egg 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, New York.
An August 8 news release announcing the reward money also says that USFWS is offering a reward of up to $5,000 to eligible individuals for information that significantly furthers the investigations and/or leads to enforcement actions for persons responsible for the following instances of the destruction of eggs and nests of American Oystercatcher and Piping Plover in New York City and Long Island this breeding season:
- Between 1 pm May 13 and 10 am May 15, 2022, approximately 57 American Oystercatcher eggs and four Piping Plover eggs were taken from their nests between Beach 38 and Beach 57 on a New York City Parks ocean beach in Arverne, Queens. A blue hooded sweatshirt with a star pattern was discovered at the site next to broken American Oystercatcher eggshells.
- On May 15, one dead Piping Plover adult was found at Beach 47 on the same New York City Parks ocean beach in Arverne, Queens.
- On or about May 20, two American Oystercatcher nests were tampered with at Beach 64 in Arverne, Queens.
- Between May 23 and 24, a Piping Plover nest and the surrounding predator exclosure were intentionally destroyed on a New York State Parks ocean beach at Robert Moses State Park in Babylon.
- On June 11, protective fencing was destroyed, and individuals were observed installing tents within Piping Plover breeding areas at Beach 56.5 in Arverne, Queens. Three (3) Piping Plover eggs were missing from a nest after this event.
- Between June 11 and 14, two Piping Plover nests and predator exclosures were intentionally destroyed on a New York State Parks ocean beach at Jones Beach State Park in Wantagh.
- On June 26, unleashed dogs were observed and eggs from a Piping Plover nest were taken within protected Piping Plover breeding areas on an ocean beach in the Town of Southampton, just east of the Shinnecock East County Park.
American Oystercatchers are protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Maximum penalties under this act are $15,000 and/or up to six months imprisonment for the take of each egg. While the date and time of the incident at Breezy Point is unknown, the destroyed egg(s) were discovered on July 6, 2022, at approximately 6 pm. Anyone with information about the incident is asked to contact either USFWS Special Agent Kathryn McCabe at (516) 318-7383; the NPS Jamaica Bay Unit 24-hour dispatch at (718) 354-4700; or 1-844-FWS-TIPS (397-8477).
The Piping Plover is protected as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). Maximum penalties under the ESA are a fine of $25,000 and/or imprisonment of up to six months for the take of each egg or individual bird. Anyone with information about the incidents listed above are asked to contact USFWS Special Agent Kathryn McCabe at 516-825-3950, or 1-844-FWS-TIPS (397-8477).
How you can help shorebirds
With ever-growing demands on our beaches, there are fewer places for shorebirds like American Oystercatcher and Piping Plover to raise families, feed, and rest. The USFWS and NPS work with partners to protect and recovery these species on public and private lands, but the public can help, too, by keeping the needs of shorebirds in mind when visiting the shore. Here are five ways to make the beach more welcoming for birds:
1. Follow all posted rules. By respecting posted areas, knowing what you can and cannot do at the specific beach you are visiting, and understanding that beaches are birds’ homes, you can help keep them safe.
2. Give birds space. Flushing birds when they are trying to eat or rest stresses them out and prevents them from feeding their chicks or refueling for their long flights.
3. Follow posted rules about keeping dogs on leash. Even good dogs frighten beach birds. A curious canine might accidentally hurt a bird.
4. Don’t leave trash on the beach, including food waste. It attracts predators, like raccoons, that prey on chicks and eggs.
5. Don’t feed birds. Gulls especially are drawn to your lunch. Our food is not part of their natural diet, and more gulls can increase disturbance to some of the imperiled species that agencies are trying to protect.