Mysterious Circumstances: Unborn Plovers Killed

The recent destruction of a piping plover nest on a Southampton beach, in a protected nesting area has sent up alarms. Was it human interference? Was it a fox? No one is sure. Piping plovers are endangered.

To mess with their eggs is a federal offense. Right now Southampton officials are on the case. Merriah Eberts, Southampton Town Endangered Species Coordinator, under the Southampton Trustees, had this to say to The Southampton Press: “It was very weird the way the nest was buried. Sand was replaced only in the front part of the enclosure (a 10×10 round with wire cage and mesh netting). Why would (someone) take the time to dig a narrow trench, rather than just scoop sand from one spot until the nest was buried? If an animal did it…sand would have been tossed around outside of trench.”

The questions remain. Why? Who? What? In Michael Wright’s story in The Southampton Press the incident is called “infanticide.” Technically that is a term for the killing of babies, yes. These were eggs, so baby birds were killed. This is actually called avicide. The killing of birds. In this case, potential piping plovers, snuffed out before they could run along the beach minding their own business, as part of nature. The branch of ornithology (the study of birds) that deals with bird eggs is called oology. I mention this, so we can keep things in perspective. Infants were not killed. Nor human eggs. That we know the name for and this is not that discussion. I am not minimizing the plover egg destruction, just separating the species for the topic at hand.

Piping plovers are birds we take seriously out here on the East End and in most coastal areas of the Northeast. Once plentiful, these small, two-ounce, adorable sandy colored birds are now in danger of extinction. That is why we protect their nests and why we fence in their nesting areas. In the 19th century they were hunted to make hats. Their soft downiness, I guess. Fashion has not always been kind. So they almost disappeared. Plovers have lost their habitats due to human expansion, big houses on the beach and businesses. More foot traffic and those big trucks that people love to drive on the beach.

Plover nests have gotten crushed and that is why we have to have these protected areas during their nesting season. Predators of plovers lurk on beaches too. Animals like dogs, cats, foxes and even snakes are not their friends. Human picnic food left behind attracts predators. Another reason for strict trash disposal rules. Besides just common sense and decency.

Again, I do not make this incident small. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are involved. An investigation proceeds. If it was a fox and not a human that destroyed the nest of eggs, we will hopefully find out. For education, if nothing else. The public has much to say on the subject of the much-maligned piping plover. You have all seen the ubiquitous bumper sticker, “Piping Plover tastes like chicken.” Some love this and get a real good laugh out of it. Others cringe at the insensitivity. People are people.

There are a lot of charm school dropouts. A site called Curbed Hamptons advertised a “last minute gift idea,” a “bucket of beer battered piping plover.” Laugh or cringe, the choice is yours.

Some bloggers are weighing in with their opinions. On a site called Stripers Online.com, one blogger suggested the plover eggs destruction, was “Nature taking its course.” Another blogger called it, “Plovercide.”  And one was convinced “a Southampton beach house owner did it to keep the public off their beach.” And one soul yawned and said “Is this headline news, really?” Again, people being, well…

I would like to get to the bottom of the nest destruction. I don’t like unfinished business. Plus, if a man did this, I would recommend staying miles away from the chap. Imagine what he would do to you if you got in his way. A woman, less likely, but they are out there, the scary ones. Kids? We do have a degree of angry youth, no denying that. Or maybe it was a fox. Doing what foxes do. And if it was a fox, lock that sly Swiper up! But beware, if you kill him, you will be charged with vulpicide.

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