A group of endangered birds that breed on the Atlantic coast have shrunk in numbers this year after violent storms wiped out several nests in the Queens area, conservationists said.
The piping plover - a plump, sparrow-sized, sandy-colored bird - builds its nest in the sand near the shoreline, making it vulnerable to storm tides. During the height of the mating season this summer, high swells swept several nests out to sea, leaving the number of endangered birds in Queens lower than last year.
In the four preservation areas on the Rockaway peninsula, there were 19 nesting pairs and five fledged offspring in 2008, parks officials said. That's a drop from the 25 nesting pairs and 10 fledged offspring last year.
Rockaway Beach area is fenced to protect endangered plovers' nesting ground
The piping plover - named for its plaintive, bell-like whistle - was once abundant on the Atlantic coast, but commercial, residential and recreational development destroyed the habitats suitable for the birds to breed.
Conservationists said the new building boom on the peninsula presents a new threat.
"There is just too much development in Rockaway that poses a problem for the nesting birds," said Don Riepe, director of the northeast chapter of the American Littoral Society, a coastal conservation group.
"These are areas we shouldn't overdevelop," said Riepe. "With people come stray cats, dogs, trash and everything that will negatively impact the piping plovers."