|Adult Piping Plover|
|Piping Plover on nest|
The most protected of these birds is the Piping Plover, which has been listed as endangered along much of the Atlantic Coast. Only 2,000 adult pairs remain in existence, according to the National Park Service.
|Eggs are laid in a depression in the sand|
After traveling thousands of miles from their wintering grounds along the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, Piping Plovers have now returned to Sandy Hook to their summer breeding sites. It usually isn't until beach season that sun-seekers realize that the birds are back.
|Parent and chick|
|Chick hunting for insects|
In each breeding season, the female lays up to four eggs in a shallow, scraped depression in the sand. Both sexes share in the incubation, which lasts about 30 days. Once a chick hatches it is able to feed within hours. However, they are flightless for about 30 days. The parents show them how to find insects for food, and brood them for protection from the elements and from predators.
Predators include foxes, skunks, feral cats and gulls. But the biggest problem for Piping Plovers is human disturbance. Stay away from posted areas, and keep to the shoreline to avoid crushing eggs or chicks. Keep your dog on a leash or at least in check. And never feed the gulls. That entices the gulls to remain close to shore, leaving Piping Plovers, their chicks or their eggs prone to attack.
The Park Service has a great slide show about the natural life of the Piping Plover and the work being done to safeguard the birds from extinction. Gunnison Beach isn't just for sunbathers; it's also home to the Piping Plover. Give these birds the respect they deserve.