Wild About Gateway

Welcome to Gateway National Recreation Area

My name is Ranger Shalini, and I need your help! We have lots of amazing creatures in our parks, and they all have habitats that they like to live in. We need YOU to guide them home.

Match all of the creatures with their habitats, and you will become a certified Gateway Protector.

  • Remote Beach
  • Bayside Beach
  • Salt Marsh
  • Ocean Beach
  • Piping Plover
  • Diamondback Terrapin
  • Harbor Seal
  • Osprey
  • Horseshoe Crab
  • Monarch Butterfly
  • Oystercatcher
  • Piping
    Plover
  • Diamondback
    Terrapin
  • Harbor
    Seal
  • Osprey
  • Horseshoe
    Crab
  • Monarch
    Butterfly
  • Oystercatcher
    • 1 Click on creatures to learn about the habitats where they like to live.
    • 2 Click on habitats to learn about what they are like.
    • 3 Drag the creatures to their correct habitats.
    • 4 Learn about conservation activities at Gateway.
    • 5 Become a Gateway Protector!
  • Remote Beach

    This area is far from humans, providing safety for large, sea-going creatures who need a place to "haul out" – to lay around and warm in the sun. It is also close enough to the water to provide lots of fish in the winter.

  • Bayside Beach

    A sandy or muddy area in a bay, protected from powerful ocean waves. Bayside beaches often have a large flat section of mud or sand called a tidal flat that is covered by water at high tide and uncovered at low tide.

  • Salt Marsh

    An area between land and salt water or brackish water where many grasses and shrubs grow. Salt marshes help hide animals from predators, which is why many of the ocean’s fish and shorebirds live in these areas when they are babies.

  • Ocean Beach

    This area is where ocean wind and waves can over time create sand dunes up to 10-20 feet tall. The area in front of and between the dunes provides shelter for nesting shore birds, while the area behind them becomes home to scrub plants like milkweed.

  • Piping Plover

    I am a small, sandy-colored bird that runs in short starts and stops. My call is a piping sound, which you may hear before you see me!

    My Ideal Habitat

    • An open area to scrape my nest into the sand.
    • Flat sandy beaches near dunes.
    • Lots of little critters to eat near the water's edge.
    • It takes a lot of energy to feed a plover family and keep track of the chicks!

    • Gateway has the most nesting piping plovers anywhere along the Jersey Shore and New York City shorelines. The eggs look like smooth speckled beach rocks.

    • Piping plover chicks run all over the beaches at Gateway, with their parents running after the little fuzz balls trying to keep them safe.

    What You Can Do

    Visit

    Volunteer

    Volunteer to help protect and monitor piping plover nests and chicks. Learn more »

  • Diamondback Terrapin

    I'm a small turtle native to coastal marshes. My name comes from the diamond shaped rings on my shell. Like fingerprints, my shell patterns are unique.

    My Ideal Habitat

    • Marshy areas far from predators like foxes.
    • Flat sandy areas nearby for laying my eggs.
    • Lots of shellfish, small crabs and small fish to eat.
    • More terrapins live and nest in Gateway than anywhere else in the area. More than 2000 terrapin nests are created each year.

    • Terrapins cross the runways at JFK Airport, looking for places they nested before the airport was built. Sometimes their crossings stop airplane take-offs and landings!

    • Look out for terrapins on the roads at Sandy Hook—they cross roads to reach upland dune areas to lay their eggs.

    What You Can Do

    Visit

    Volunteer

    Join the Terrapin Volunteer Program, devoted to discovering ways to help terrapins in Gateway. Learn more »

  • Harbor Seal

    I am an Atlantic Harbor Seal. Some people call me a “sea dog” because my face looks like “man’s best friend.” I weigh 200-375 pounds: that's lots of blubber to stay warm in the winter!

    My Ideal Habitat

    • Isolated area near the water, away from humans (sorry, humans!)
    • A flat surface for daily haul-outs in the sun.
    • Lots of fish for eating—especially in the winter.
    • You can sometimes see each seal wiggle and roll until they get completely comfortable and nap in the sun on the wintry beach. Often seals rest in "Banana Position" with their bellies resting on the beach and their head and tails curved up off the sand.

    • When winter comes to the Great Kills Marina, boaters haul their boats out of the water, and seals haul themselves out on the empty boat docks. The deserted Hoffman and Swinburne Islands just south of Staten Island also make great seal habitat.

    • Juvenile seals sometimes haul out all alone on the oceanside beaches of Gateway. Young seals sometimes need simply to rest for a while on the beach, or they have caught the seal version of the flu and need help from the Marine Mammal Stranding Center. People sometimes get bitten trying to throw a resting seal back into the water wrongly thinking the seal needs to be in water to survive.

    What You Can Do

    Visit

    Volunteer

    Visit the Marine Mammal Stranding Center to help us rehabilitate stranded juvenile seals. Learn more »

  • Osprey

    I am a large bird of prey that looks a lot like a bald eagle. I love to hover like a helicopter and then dive into water claws first to catch fish for my family.

    My Ideal Habitat

    • Areas close to water.
    • Abandoned chimneys, trees or poles to build my nest.
    • Plenty of fish, such as striped bass, menhaden, and eel.
    • Osprey often spend their winters in Central and South America and migrate to Gateway during the third week of March each year.

    • Look for osprey soaring overhead in Gateway. They are one of the largest birds of prey. This nest is next to the control tower of JFK Airport .

    • Osprey create nests using piles of sticks and twigs which they add to each year. Their nests are always near a salt marsh where the fishing is good.

    What You Can Do

    Visit

    • Great Kills Park
    • Sandy Hook
    • Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge
    • Learn More »

    Volunteer

    Volunteer to set up osprey poles and to band and monitor osprey young. Learn more »

  • Horseshoe Crab

    Even though I look like a crab, I’m actually more like a spider. But don’t worry, I’m harmless to humans! I’m also very old; I was here more than 100 million years before the dinosaurs!

    My Ideal Habitat

    • Gently sloping land close to the water.
    • Clean sand with lots of oxygen mixed in.
    • Plenty of clams and sea worms to eat.
    • During the months of May and June, male and female crabs come up to the shore line at high tide (especially during the full moon).

    • Each female lays about 4,000 eggs about a foot down in the wet sand. Many shorebirds eat them for energy for the spring migration north. Without these eggs, several species of shorebirds would likely become extinct.

    • Most times a horseshoe crab shell found on the beach is an empty molt, left by a crab that got too big for its shell.

    What You Can Do

    Visit

    Volunteer

    Participate in a bayside beach cleanup to remove trash from the horseshoe crab’s habitat. Learn more »

  • Monarch Butterfly

    I am a large butterfly that lives in Gateway during the summer and travels to Mexico for the winter. My caterpillar babies eat only milkweed leaves.

    My Ideal Habitat

    • Seaside plants for eating.
    • Milkweed plants to lay my eggs in.
    • Sand dunes.
    • Seaside goldenrod growing in the fall just in front of the dunes at the Sandy Hook and Breezy Point sections of Gateway provides an excellent source of energy for migrating monarchs.

    • Monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed plants which is the only food the young can eat.

    • Here a monarch caterpillar feeds on Milkweed growing among the shrubs growing between the dunes at the Great Kills Park.

    What You Can Do

    Visit

    Volunteer

    Volunteer to plant milkweed plants in areas of Great Kills Park. Learn more »

  • Oystercatcher

    I am a large shorebird and I wade in the water at low tide looking for shellfish. I use my long bright orange-red beak to open shells of clams for food.

    My Ideal Habitat

    • A large flat area of sand or mud.
    • Plenty of mussels, clams, and oysters.
    • Far away from foxes and other predators.
    • Sandy Hook is an important feeding and nesting area for species like the Oystercatcher.

    • Poaching, egg-collecting, and hunting nearly drove the Oystercatcher to extinction in the New York area in the 1800's.

    • In the early spring, Oystercatchers will pair up and choose a suitable nesting ground on Gateway's beaches.

    What You Can Do

    Visit

    Volunteer

    Volunteer to remove trash that attracts predators to Oystercatcher habitats. Learn more »

Need Help? Ask the ranger.

Ranger's Hint

  • Piping Plovers like to eat seaweed at the shoreline of the ocean.
  • Piping Plovers find great nesting areas on dunes close to the ocean.
  • Piping Plovers prefer being close to the ocean.
  • Piping Plovers like a specific kind of beach. This isn't it.
  • Terrapins hide from predators in tall grasses.
  • Terrapins feast on crabs found in marshy water.
  • Terrapins like areas with a mix of fresh and salt water.
  • Harbor Seals like to be in remote areas far from people.
  • Harbor Seals need isolated beaches to warm in the sun.
  • Harbor Seals need plenty of fish, especially in the winter.
  • Harbor Seals like a specific kind of beach. This isn't it.
  • Osprey like to build their nests high up in the air.
  • Osprey create elaborate nests that they add to each year.
  • Osprey like to fish in brackish areas.
  • Horseshoe Crabs like beaches that are protected from ocean waves.
  • Horseshoe Crabs lay their eggs on gently sloping beaches.
  • Horseshoe Crabs prefer the calm waves of a bay.
  • Monarch Butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed growing in the dunes near the ocean.
  • Monarch Butterflies like to eat nectar from goldenrod near the ocean.
  • Baby Monarch Butterfly caterpillars eat only milkweed, found on the dunes near the ocean.
  • Oystercatchers love to find clams in the tidal flats in the bay.
  • Oystercatchers like places in the bay far from predators.
  • Oystercatchers like large, flat areas of sand.
  • Piping Plovers live at oceanside beaches!

    Piping Plovers like oceanside beaches because of the many nesting areas and critters to eat in the seaweed at the shoreline. People often wish to use the areas that plovers need to nest.

  • Removing Predators

    Gateway Rangers set up special nest protectors called exclosures to prevent foxes, raccoons, and other predators from getting to piping plover nesting sites.

  • That's not where the Piping Plover lives.

    This creature would prefer a different habitat.

  • Diamondback Terrapins like salt marshes!

    Terrapins rely on salt marsh for crabs and other food. They like to hide among the tall grasses in the marsh, but if you remain still and quiet you might be lucky enough to see one.

  • Monitoring Animals and Nesting Sites

    Gateway Park Rangers and volunteers count terrapins and mark nesting sites each season. This allows them to keep track of the numbers of terrapin and also protects nests from predators.

  • That's not where the terrapin lives.

    This creature would prefer a different habitat.

  • Harbor Seals like remote island beaches!

    Harbor Seals love these habitats because fish are plentiful and they have plenty of space to spread out and warm up. And they’re far from any pesky humans!

  • Closing Human Access to Parts of Park

    Harbor seals are shy animals that can be easily disrupted by humans that are too close. Gateway Rangers educate park visitors about how to keep a safe distance when viewing these animals.

  • That's not where the seal lives.

    Seals need a habitat far away from people, with lots of fishing, and a nice sloping beach.

  • Osprey live in salt marshes!

    Ospreys like to perch on poles and platforms placed above salt marshes, scanning for fish in the water. In Gateway, Osprey often make their nests on special platforms built for them in the park’s salt marshes!

  • Restoring Habitats

    Gateway Park Rangers help Osprey find places to live within the park by creating salt marsh islands and nesting platforms for them to lay their eggs.

  • That's not where the Osprey lives.

    This creature would prefer a different habitat.

  • Horseshoe Crabs like bayside beaches!

    Horseshoe crabs like these gentle beaches protected from ocean waves to mate and lay their eggs. If you see a horseshoe crab on its back on one of these beaches, help it out and turn it over!

  • Removing Trash

    Volunteers participate in beach sweeps to remove sludge, tar balls, and other trash from the beaches so Horseshoe Crabs have plenty of oxygen for their eggs to develop.

  • That's not where the crab lives.

    This creature would prefer a different habitat.

  • Monarch Butterflies like oceanside beaches!

    Monarchs love to sip nectar from the seaside goldenrod in the fall while migrating south. The scrub brush behind the dunes with milkweed is also the place for Monarchs to lay their eggs.

  • Restoring Habitats

    Monarch butterflies only lay their eggs on milkweed plants. Gateway Rangers preserve this habitat by replanting milkweed and closing off areas of the park where milkweed grows.

  • That's not where the butterfly lives.

    This creature would prefer a different habitat.

  • Oystercatchers live at bayside beaches!

    The tidal flats at bayside beaches are great for Oystercatchers to probe the mud and sand with their beaks in search of clams and mussels to eat.

  • Removing Harmful Chemicals

    Gateway rangers are checking the water to make sure bad chemicals don't get into the water (like those that come when we flush toilets on a rainy day), so that oystercatchers have clean water to live in.

  • That's not where the Oystercatcher lives.

    This creature would prefer a different habitat.

  • You've helped us get the creatures back to their correct habitats, which makes you a certified Gateway Protector.

    PRINT CERTIFICATE!
    Print out your certificate and bring it to any Gateway park to become a Jr. Ranger.
    LEARN MORE
    Learn more about the creatures of Gateway, where you can visit them, and what you can do to help.

Creature List

Harbor Seal at Remote Beach Island

Visit

Sandy Hook
1 Bay Avenue, Highlands, NJ 0773 Map this link »
View Skeleton Hill Island from the bayside boardwalk across the street from the Sandy Hook Visitor Center. Winter time at low tide. On ice in front of Officers Row, Hartshorne Drive.

Great Kills
Staten Island, Richmond, New York 10308 Map this link »
On the marina docks at low tide, during the winter time.

Help

Visit the Marine Mammal Stranding Center to help us rehabilitate stranded juvenile seals. Learn more »

Help remove garbage which has floated up on beaches (marine debris), which keeps the beach clean and safe for creatures.
Volunteer at Sandy Hook: Clean Ocean Action »
Volunteer in New York: American Littoral Society »

Piping Plover at Oceanside Beach

Visit

Sandy Hook
1 Bay Avenue, Highlands, NJ 0773 Map this link »
B,C,D and North Beach

Jamaica Bay
Queens, New York Map this link »
Ocean beaches at Riis Park, Fort Tilden and Breezy Point on the Rockaway peninsula.

Help

People, foxes, raccoons, stray cats, and dogs, all cause plovers to abandon their nests. Volunteer to help protect and monitor piping plover nests and chicks »

Diamondback Terrapin at Salt Marsh

Visit

Sandy Hook
1 Bay Avenue, Highlands, NJ 0773 Map this link »
Boardwalk on the bayside across the street from the Sandy Hook Visitor Center low tide. May and June.

Jamaica Bay
Queens, New York Map this link »
West Pond Trail and Terrapin Trail. Look for terrapins, egg shells by their dug up nests and small black terrapin heads swimming in the salt water. May and June.

Help

People, foxes, raccoons, stray cats, and dogs, all cause plovers to abandon their nests. Volunteer to help protect and monitor piping plover nests and chicks »

Osprey at Salt Marsh

Visit

Sandy Hook
1 Bay Avenue, Highlands, NJ 0773 Map this link »
Osprey platforms at Spermaceti Cove and Horseshoe Cove, chimney of the Officer’s Club: Fort Hancock

Jamaica Bay
Queens, New York Map this link »
Powerline poles along Cross Bay Boulevard.

Great Kills
Staten Island, Richmond, New York 10308 Map this link »
On the marina docks at low tide, during the winter time.

Help

Osprey rely on the poles volunteers set up in salt marsh. Volunteer to set up osprey poles and to band and monitor osprey young »

Osprey are vulnerable to becoming entangled in fishing line and other garbage floating in bay waters (marine debris). Assist in keeping bayside beaches clean at Sandy Hook »

And in New York »

Horseshoe Crab at Bayside Beach

Visit

Sandy Hook
1 Bay Avenue, Highlands, NJ 0773 Map this link »
Horseshoe cove at low tide. June – August.

Jamaica Bay
Queens, New York Map this link »
Plum Beach and Dead Horse Bay at low tide. June - August.

Great Kills
Staten Island, Richmond, New York 10308 Map this link »
By bathhouse at low tide. June- August.

Monarch Butterfly at Oceanside Beach

Visit

Great Kills
Staten Island, Richmond, New York 10308 Map this link »

Crooke’s Point

Help

Monarchs are finding fewer and fewer areas of seaside golden rod and milkweed due to urban construction suburban housing developments. Volunteer to plant milkweed in areas of Great Kills Park »

Oystercatcher at Bayside Beach

Visit

Sandy Hook
1 Bay Avenue, Highlands, NJ 0773 Map this link »
Low tide at Spermaceti Cove or nesting on the ocean beach at Area D, and fisherman’s trail in North Beach.

Jamaica Bay
Queens, New York Map this link »
Low tide at Plum Beach or Dead Horse Bay or nesting on the bayside of Breezy Point.

Great Kills
Staten Island, Richmond, New York 10308 Map this link »
Low tide at the Great Kills Bathhouse.

Help

Young Oystercatchers are vulnerable to foxes and raccoons. Volunteer to help remove trash that attracts predators in Oystercatcher habitats »

Glossary Terms

Harbor Seal

Blubber
The layer of fat around a seal’s body that keeps seals and other marine animals warm, even in very cold water.
Haul Out
The term used for when seals leave the water to rest on beaches to digest food and regulate their body temperature.

Diamondback Terrapin

Predator
An animal such as a raccoon or fox that eats other animals.
Brackish
A mix of fresh and salt water.
Bulkhead
A wall along the shoreline that prevents the sea from washing away the shoreline and flooding the land behind.

Horseshoe Crab

Extinct
To no longer exist.
Molt
An old shell split off from the crab’s body replaced by a newer, larger shell.
Gills
What horseshoe crabs use to breathe. Each horseshoe crab has 5 pairs of gills that look like pages in a book, which is why they are commonly known as “book gills.”

Oystercatcher

Tidal Flat
A large flat area of sand or mud that becomes exposed during low tide in a bay.

Salt Marsh

Tides
The twice-a-day rising and falling of the level of the water in ocean and bays.

Piping Plover

Scrapes
The layer of fat around a seal’s body that keeps seals and other marine animals warm, even in very cold water.
Wrack Line
A long line of dead and dying seaweed on the beach. The wrack line marks the upper limit of the last tide.
Amphipods
Small shrimp or flea-like creatures that do not have a backbone. Sometimes called “sand hoppers” or “beach fleas,” these animals feed and live on the wilting patches of seaweed in the wrack line at the edge of the water.

Osprey

Opposable
Capable of being placed opposite of the other fingers or in this case, talons to make grasping simpler.
Talons
The sharp claws of an animal. Osprey use these to catch fish.

Monarch Butterfly

Migration
A journey many butterflies, including Monarch, take each year to live somewhere else in response to changes in the weather.