Last week on “Murders On The T.V.,” we discovered a clever and low-risk way to identify the predator eating Plover Park’s jewels, its beach-nesting bird eggs, by placing a camera at a nest the night after it disappeared. The hope was the naughty nest eater would return to relive the magic. It was a success, though who could say it wasn’t just a curious coincidence?
Unfortunately, we’ve had more opportunities to test this out as the Oystercatchers keep laying new nests, and the fox keeps eating them. The pace of this is getting so fast that the poor Oystercatchers are losing nests before anyone even has a chance to discover them.
Just a few days ago, a promising Oystercatcher scrape of J22 and J23 (Jesse & James) had no eggs in the evening, but by the time it was checked on the following day, the scrape was destroyed, dug into, and there were fox prints all over it. Jesse & James probably lay and lost within just a few hours. And once again, a camera placed on the nest the following night caught a fox returning directly to the nest for another sniff around.
Catching the fox on cam the night after is good evidence, though some need more convincing. Unfortunately, putting a camera on a live AMOY nest is taboo. Oystercatchers are nervous, sketchy, and prone to abandoning nests at the slightest disturbance or changes to the habitat. Also, the camera itself could attract a fox or other predator to the nest out of curiosity. Catching a nest loss as it occurs is valuable but too big a risk.
Jesse & James wound up laying another nest the following day. This new nest probably wasn’t a renest but was a continuation nest, meaning they had only laid the first egg in the laying cycle, lost it, but were already working on the second, so they had to lay it somewhere.
And I noticed this “somewhere” was right next to an existing NJFW fence post.
This was a unique opportunity to drop a camera at a live Oystercatcher nest since the existing post could mount the camera and keep it hidden. Kashi & Emily were comfortable with this and curious about the fox behavior, so we quickly got a Little Egg Cam on the nest before sundown.
Unfortunately, I’m really sorry to report that the effort was a “success.” Finally, last night, we saw the fox take the eggs firsthand. And now you can too.
While nothing beats irrefutable evidence, more importantly, there is always something new to learn. What’s most striking about the video is how the fox delicately takes the eggs, one at a time. There were just 3 minutes between the two visits.
You’d expect a fox to just munch down the eggs right there on the spot. It certainly explains why no shell fragments or yolk stains are being found at these lost nests, as is often the case. So what could explain the very delicate effort to remove and transport them?
One explanation is that the fox ran into the grasses for more safety while eating. The fox did appear a bit jumpy, responding to both the AMOY chirps and looking spooked when it saw the camera. But carrying those eggs a long distance just for a quick bite seems like a ridiculous risk, especially leaving one behind for several minutes.
A better explanation is that the fox is bringing food to a baby somewhere, old enough to be weaned off milk and leaving the den but not old enough to come along for the egg hunt. A three-minute round trip would have to put that cub or den extremely close to the park, though. That fox would have to hustle while carrying an egg in its mouth.
I suppose time will tell the whole story.
For now, we have just more questions. And perhaps the most burning one of all: is it time we name this fox?
about a decade ago, we saw a red fox in the pine bushes in barnegat light
Stanley Young email@example.com 408-569-6461
I saw one last night!
Yes, the fox most definitely needs a name.
Noted with thanks! Your vote counts!
Do the birds ever try to defend the nest?
This is a great question and one that interests me. Short answer: it depends on the species. For beach nesting birds, Piping Plovers & American Oystercatchers nest alone and rely heavily on camo, stealth, and distraction to defend. Least Terns and Skimmers on the other hand nest in large groups. While they use camo too, they will do very aggressive aerial attacks, raining down a sea of poo. There is strength in numbers. I have a great video somewhere of LETE attacking a coyote in the middle of the night while the coyote looks skyward, perplexed!
The reaction was something I was very curious about in this video. In the video, the AMOY basically do what they do to me when I’m too close to the nest: they run off, chirp (perhaps to each other, or perhaps to attract attention away from the nest) and generally look to lead away from the nest. They will even go as far as to pretend to be incubating a nest! Anything to draw you away.
Fox eat birds too, and the animals probably know the loss of themselves is a bigger loss than the loss of eggs which they could replace. So while they probably would never attack, the question remains how much they would put themselves at risk in the attempt to distract something away.
Oystercatchers run pretty easily. My joke about the unbanded pair at the park is that if I’m at home and even think about going to Plover Park, they run away from their nest.
Piping Plovers are more questionable. The use the broken wing defense. The bolder the bird, the closer it will get in an effort to get you to chase them. It is a much higher stakes gamble.
Last thought is that where they are in the nesting cycle probably plays a role in how much a bird is willing to gamble against a predator. The point being, chicks probably score the highest, full clutch and incubation second, and new eggs at a new eggs the lowest!
(Name borrowed by a fisherman on IBSP)
That’s a winner! Stealy Dan it is, and goes nicely with this season’s classic rock themed names.