Un-build It, And They Will Come Back

So whatever happened to the Least Tern colony forming in Plover Park this season? Sadly, the forming colony collapsed soon after that fateful night when Coyote went berserk and ate everything in the Park. That was enough for the Terns’ collective hivemind to decide that was too much drama, and so they moved on within just a few days, abandoning both the Park and our highest hopes. 

But all was not lost. For better or worse, four random nests had somehow escaped Coyote’s detection and survived intact. Two were high on a hill. One was on the wrong (or right!) side of the dune. The other was just plain lucky. And, luckily for us, the bold, dedicated birds who laid those nests decided to brave Coyote’s future attacks and see the nests through, even as their entire community abandoned ship.

Least Terns are very “social” animals. They form enormous colonies, sometimes in tiny areas. Even though these colonies are chaotic and often violent, the birds support each other through the nesting season, and they find great strength in numbers.

So it was pretty sad to watch the only four pairs remaining, spread far apart from each other in the Park, going it alone. Nothing draws up a tear like seeing a lonely Least Tern sitting on some seemingly doomed eggs. They were castaways on a desert island; the last families left to repopulate the earth at the end of the Zombie Apocolypse.

But God bless them because all four nests hatched. So while it wouldn’t be quite the dream of thousands of Least Terns raining chaos and poo down on unprepared visitors to the Park all summer, these Four First Families of Tern represent an enormous achievement for Plover Park and an excellent sign for the future.

Unbelievable! Todd Pover’s Plover Park opened up just the teeniest, weeniest, smidgeon of the island for them and they came flocking from every direction. I imagine that Long Beach Island was an enormous Least Tern colony before we arrived. The island certainly would not be the same without them, so we are really, really fortunate to have even just these four pairs.

Build it, and they will come. Or more correctly, un-build it, and they will come back.

Three cheers for Todd Pover’s Plover Park, for those four sad, lonely LETE families, and for the bright, bright future for all of us that their success portends.

Enjoy this short video celebration of the first baby LETE born in Barnegat Light in who knows how many years.


  1. I am in BL this week, and it was a pleasure to watch about a dozen teens sitting on the beach this morning up near the inlet. I also saw two piping plovers.


    1. Always good to see teens on the beach. Just kidding, I know what you meant! You might have seen some our Least Terns. We also have Common Terns out there.


    1. Yes, it is a happy thing. We went from zero to four. It looked like we were going from zero to sixty. But this is progress and progress is good.


  2. Whenever I have a chance to open up this link it makes me SMILE, LAUGH, WONDER and appreciate what is real and true in this world. THANK YOU


  3. Sooooo…

    This question has been lingering in my mind…

    Did you (they) trap the fox???

    I know this could ignite a firestorm with the “let nature take it’s course”  wackos, but, not likely with your followers. We (you and many others) are attempting to right the wrongs perpetrated upon a little bird, after a possibility thousands of years ritual, find their nesting sites basically gone in the last 100 years. Boo hoo.

    I hope you (they) did. I won’t tell anybody!

    Tim Riegert


    1. Thanks for the thoughtful comment. You’re right: I am very, very, very pleased that this is a place with a small group of thoughtful readers where we can talk about stuff calmly and intelligently that would blow up into a mess on the socials. Like Coyote.

      So first, it is coyote and not fox which were the issue.

      Second, the town made what I consider a sloppy and lazy attempt to slaughter the family this winter. They did this to appease the fearful and the ignorant on Facebook, making the attempt IMO sad and cruel. They failed. What they did was destroy the well functioning family by killing some and leaving behind some aimless, orphan coyote pups. I don’t think the public realized it was a death sentence. When they did, everyone stopped talking about coyote. The alpha male survives and when he breeds again, he’ll most likely have more pups than before. That’s what coyote do and why slaughter is counter productive.

      I was fully against that effort because it was cruel, counter productive, and it rewarded and encouraged ignorance. So it surprises some people to hear that I fully support intelligent biologists trapping specific, documented problem coyote to protect endangered species. I have zero problems with that. In fact, I have a problem with the opposite. It is also sad and cruel, and additionally, irresponsible and unintelligent not to manage animals wisely on habitats taken over by humans.

      Bottom line, there was some talk and some planning, but no trapping. It is really hard and it takes time to do it effectively. It is also expensive.

      I still record everything the coyotes do each day and monitor them carefully. Remember that, at least for a time, they might actually be a net-positive for the Park. They clean up and keep out other problem predators. Other than that one, really, really bad night, it has been a successful cooperative partnership between coyote and beach nesters. So far.

      It is clearest that exposed eggs are the issue so far in Plover Park, though other habitats have more significant issues with coyotes predating chicks and adults. Those habitats should have priority for trapping efforts. What needs to happen in Barnegat Light is that hazing strategies need to expand, careful tracking and monitoring needs to continue, and eggs possibly need to be exclosed more quickly than usual.


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