Thursday, June 24, 2010

Piping Plover; Oil Spill Thoughts

[Piping Plover chicks show what it means to be precocial, South Cape May on Tuesday. Photo by Wayne Laubscher.]

More chicks on the beach. . .Piping Plover chicks are precocial, which means they hatch fully covered with down, leave the nest very quickly, and already know how to find their own food - marine worms, tiny bivalves, and other invertebrates. They still need mom and dad for protection from predators and the elements, and won't be able to fly well for about a month, give or take, after hatching. Plover chicks respond to alarm calls from their parents immediately by laying flat to hide, and parents will perform distraction displays. Parent plovers often brood chicks to protect them from cold or shade them from heat.

The Piping Plover reminds us that the gulf oil spill is not so far away. Most Atlantic Coast Piping Plovers apparently winter on the southern Atlantic Coast, but some undoubtedly cross over to the gulf. Birds from the northern plains population, however, winter primarily on the gulf coast, indeed most apparently fly nonstop from the breeding grounds to the gulf. Imagine what some of those birds will find. The biggest threat to Piping Plover survival, until now, has been lack of reproductive output, due to disturbance and predation on nests and young. What will the addition of a threat to adult survival on the wintering grounds mean for this endangered species?

And Piping Plover is only one example. In addition to the horrific effects the spill will have on gulf bird residents and migrants from other regions, I figure there are about 100 species for which individual birds could conceivably spend time both in NJ, as breeders or migrants, and along the gulf. That figure only includes birds using gulf waters or tidal areas, such as waterfowl, Ospreys, herons and shorebirds, and not the many other species that migrate over the gulf but seem unlikely to be impacted directly by the spill, like warblers or hummingbirds.

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