• Miles of uncrowded white sandy beaches extend to the horizon, separating the clear blue ocean and undulating grass-covered dunes.

    Fire Island

    National Seashore New York

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Piping Plovers on Fire Island

Piping plovers from egg to chick to fledgling.
Fire Island National Seashore participates in an active Piping Plover Recovery Program to help ensure the survival of this threatened shorebird species.

Two federally listed threatened and endangered (T & E) bird species are known to nest within Fire Island National Seashore. One is the piping plover (Charadrius melodus), a stocky little migratory shorebird that is on the federal threatened and New York State endangered species list. Fire Island's relatively natural and uncrowded beaches provide critical habitat for the survival of this species.

Adult piping plover on beach.

On January 10, 1986, the piping plover was listed as threatened and endangered under the provisions of the Endangered Species Act  of 1973, as amended by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1985.

This inconspicuous shorebird breeds only in North America, in three distinct regions.

The Atlantic coast population of the piping plover spends its winters along the coast from North Carolina south, along the Gulf Coast, and in the Caribbean.

By mid-March, some of the New York-New Jersey subpopulation of piping plovers start to return to Fire Island.

From March to late July, piping plovers breed on Atlantic Coast beaches from Canada to Virginia. There is also a population that breeds along the Great Lakes and another population breeding in the Northern Great Plains.

They all return to the south Atlantic Coast, Gulf Coast, Bahamas and West Indies for the winter.

Plover nest with eggs on sandy beach.

The plover nest is a shallow scraped depression on the sand above the high tide line. Nests may include bits of shell or small pebbles.

Piping plover courtship and mating usually occurs from late March through early June.

By early April, males begin to establish and defend their territory. Following courtship, the female bird lays three to four speckled eggs resembling small pebbles in a shallow scraped depression in the sand. Nests are usually on the beach above the high tide or wrack line, but may be situated in washovers or blowout areas behind the primary dune line. Plovers may also nest where suitable dredge material has been deposited.

Female plovers generally lay one egg every other day until they reach a complete clutch of four eggs. The eggs are incubated by both male and female for about 27 days.

Piping plovers generally fledge only a single brood per year, but may renest several times if previous nests are lost, or if the chicks are lost within a few days of hatching.

Piping plover chicks in nest.

How may chicks can you count in this nest? Cryptic coloration is a primary defense mechanism for this species.

Once hatched, plover chicks are still very vulnerable. They can walk soon after hatching, but their camouflaged coloration makes them hard to see on the sand.

For their first four weeks of life, they may walk hundreds of yards from the nest site, usually staying with one or both parents until they fledge.

Plover chick on beach.

Plover chicks and adults forage in the intertidal beach areas for marine worms, beetles, crustaceans and other small invertebrates.

The birds are so well camouflaged, you may first be alerted to their presence by their high pitched "peep." Birds usually run a short distance, then stand very still.

Piping plover spreads wings to fly.

Piping plover chicks fledge, or fly from the nest, usually within 25-35 days.

Most nesting activity has ceased on Fire Island by mid-August, and the birds fly south for the winter.

Sign on beach in front of lighthouse.

Signs, symbolic fencing and exclosures around nests are some of the measures that are taken to ensure the survival of the federally threatened/state endangered piping plover.

Fire Island National Seashore's piping plover monitoring and protection program begins in March with a restriction on driving, pets and kites on portions of the beach. Symbolic fencing is installed to mark suitable plover habitat.

As nests are established, exclosures are constructed to protect both nest and eggs. After the chicks have fledged, restrictions on pets and kites are lifted, but the symbolic fencing is left in place for the protection of beach plants

You Can Help

  • Respect fenced areas and stay clear of bird nesting areas.
  • Where they are permitted, always keep dogs leashed.
    See Pets on the Beach for current restrictions

Learn More

Did You Know?

The uppermost level of a long bridge sloping down to the island is covered by a string of cars and vans.

You may drive to either end of Fire Island, and walk to Fire Island National Seashore from either Robert Moses State Park or Smith Point County Park. You should anticipate long lines of traffic on warm, sunny weekend days. More...