Meet the People Rescuing Piping Plover Birds In New York

Piping plovers, dun-colored shorebirds that lay their eggs in tiny scrapes in the sand, are simple to overlook as they dart over the seaside. Chris Allieri is tougher to miss.

This previous spring, Mr. Allieri began the N.Y.C. Plover Project, a company devoted to defending the threatened birds on seashores in the Rockaways in Queens. He has recruited greater than 50 volunteers who’ve spent most of the spring and summer time patrolling the seashores to defend plovers from canine and oblivious beachgoers.

Some interactions could be uncomfortable, like when Mr. Allieri intercepted a younger lady carrying a small canine from her boat to the shore of Breezy Point Tip on a sweltering Saturday. Not distant a handful of fledgling plovers wheeled over the waves whereas a minimum of three chicks scampered over the sand.

Mr. Allieri defined that the canine was forbidden. The lady mentioned she understood and returned to the boat. But then a person stomped from the boat via waist-high water, asking Mr. Allieri, “You work for the government?”

Mr. Allieri mentioned he didn’t however would name legislation enforcement if the canine set foot on the seaside. The man mentioned he didn’t like being advised what to do. Mr. Allieri known as the Parks Police earlier than the man walked again to his boat.

Arguments like which are atypical, Mr. Allieri mentioned, however days at the seaside haven’t precisely been enjoyable since he began watching over plovers.

Chris Allier, heart, based the NYC Plover Project after first seeing a piping plover as a baby on the Jersey Shore.Credit…Dave Sanders for The New York Times

Mr. Allieri, 47, lives in Brooklyn and owns a public relations firm that focuses on clear vitality and local weather applied sciences. He noticed his first plover as a baby together with his father, an avid birder, at the Jersey Shore. He mentioned it was like seeing “a unicorn.”

Last 12 months, Mr. Allieri was at Fort Tilden Beach at Gateway National Recreation Area in Queens when a plover appeared subsequent to him on the seaside. Then he noticed one other, and one other.

He additionally noticed canine, off-leash, chasing the fragile birds.

“Who’s protecting them?” Mr. Allieri mentioned.

He spent a lot of the first summer time of the coronavirus pandemic photographing plovers and speaking with the National Park Service, which oversees Gateway.

This spring Mr. Allieri began the Plover Project to teach beachgoers about the birds and to name authorities if obligatory to guard them.

Plovers have seen their coastal habitat destroyed by human growth and erosion. At one level there have been barely greater than 720 breeding pairs of Atlantic piping plovers left.

The birds are federally protected beneath the Endangered Species and Migratory Birds Treaty Acts. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there have been a complete of 5,983 instances investigated in 2020 beneath each acts, of which investigations into plovers make up a fraction.

Plover chicks start to run and feed on their very own virtually from beginning, and they’re principally defenseless in opposition to predators like ghost crabs, gulls and raccoons, amongst many others. Human proximity can forestall the chicks from feeding, which could be a dying sentence.

A ghost crab, a piping plover predator, on the seaside at Breezy Point, Queens. Credit…Dave Sanders for The New York Times

Once grown, the diminutive birds grow to be world vacationers, yearly migrating south from the sandy seashores alongside the Atlantic Coast, the Great Lakes and river techniques on the Great Plains, the three locations the place most of them are born. Mr. Allieri mentioned that one, banded in New Jersey and nicknamed Clark Kent, was seen in the Bahamas, a journey of greater than 1,000 miles.

In the New York area, plovers are likely to nest on the Jersey Shore, Long Island, and at Rockaway Beach, Fort Tilden and Breezy Point seaside in Queens. They arrive in March and may keep till the finish of August, via the sizzling months when people additionally flock to the sea.

That timing is unlucky, and a few beachfront communities have resented the birds for many years as a result of defending them usually means proscribing seashores.

U.S. Park Police officers patrol federal seashores however say the volunteers searching for piping plovers are useful as a result of officers can solely cowl a restricted space. Credit…Dave Sanders for The New York Times

Whole stretches of seaside could be cordoned off. Walking canine, flying kites, lighting fireworks or off-roading to a secluded spot for fishing are banned. Anyone caught harming a plover can face stiff monetary penalties and even jail time.

Protecting the birds may also imply capturing or killing animals that eat them, like foxes in New Jersey or feral cats on Long Island, actions which have angered residents. In the Hamptons, some owners turned in opposition to the birds, a lot in order that one outspoken critic revealed a recipe for spit-roasted plover in an area newspaper.

The village of West Hampton Dunes on Long Island was incensed over plover rules, which required fencing about half its seashores, erecting protecting buildings round nests and hiring “plover monitors,” who patrol the sands and maintain vehicles shifting at a crawl on close by roads, mentioned the mayor, Gary Vegliante.

“We were quarantined from our beach,” Mr. Vegliante mentioned.

But over the years residents have principally come to simply accept the restrictions, Mr. Vegliante mentioned. “The birds are cute, nobody wants to see them abandoned or lost,” he mentioned.

Plovers, which have been federally protected since the mid-1980s, have seen their coastal habitat destroyed by human growth and erosion.Credit…Dave Sanders for The New York Times

U.S. Park Police implement the legal guidelines that shield plovers and different threatened species on the Queens seashores that Mr. Allieri watches. But there are solely so many park rangers out there. Mr. Allieri’s group is an enormous assist monitoring miles of seaside, mentioned Tony Lordo, a lieutenant with the Park Police.

“It’s the extra eyes and ears, that’s really what we need,” Lt. Lordo mentioned at Fort Tilden Beach.

The Park Service partnered with Mr. Allieri and helped educate him and the volunteers about battle de-escalation and the greatest strategy to strategy folks on the seaside.

Many folks, he mentioned, are desperate to find out about plovers, that are undeniably cute — their chicks seem like a kindergartner’s artwork undertaking, a pair of cotton balls glued to pipe cleaner legs.

Mr. Allieri has repurposed a sales space on the boardwalk at the seaside at Jacob Riis Park and printed plover stickers and momentary tattoos to provide passers-by.

Samantha Philbert, 30, mentioned she joined the Plover Project as a result of she discovered the birds “adorable.”

An illustrator who lives in Brooklyn, she mentioned attending to the seashores entails driving two buses for an hour and a half, and he or she often stays for hours. She approaches folks with a sculpture of a plover egg and pictures of various shorebirds and tries to show, not scold.

Ms. Philbert mentioned that as an introverted Black lady, she usually considered what occurred in 2020 when a Black birder requested a white lady to not stroll her canine off-leash in Central Park, solely to have the lady name the police.

“It’s just kind of intimidating when you’re kind of like the only Black person, like in an area that’s predominantly white,” Ms. Philbert mentioned.

But apart from uncommon encounters with visibly intoxicated folks, she mentioned, “everyone was really nice to me, all smiles everywhere.”

Plover numbers in the Rockaways have elevated lately, with 46 reported in 2020. Mr. Allieri mentioned he plans to proceed his efforts so long as the birds maintain coming again to the metropolis.

“They’re New Yorkers, too,” Mr. Allieri mentioned. “They’re living their lives, just as we are trying to live our lives.”