Sex Ed: Aliens, Piping Plover, and Dirty Pictures

Let's talk about Gender, baby.
Let’s talk about Gender, baby.

Correctly identifying the gender of wild animals can be tricky business. Even when you’re armed with the greatest scientific research & insights, and a Peterson’s Guide To Birds of The Jersey Shore, all those helpful little tidbits like “The female is significantly larger than the male” and “the male has distinct buff tips on the primary feathers” turn out to be pretty useless in most real situations you’ll find yourself in on the Beach.

With the exception of within one’s own species, concrete gender identification of anything can be a bit of a Parlor Trick. You can be sure that when the Aliens finally come to raid our planet for medicines, or perhaps to enslave us to the Matrix to use our brains as batteries to power their Droids, they will have one heck of a time picking out the men from the women. We can imagine Alien scientists hovering over the Earth reading their Peterson’s Field Guide to Intergalactic Species of The Milky Way, staring intently at two little illustrated drawings of male and female humans, reading the tiny description like “The males tend to be taller, but not always” and “The females have bumps on their chest called ‘Breasts'” They will soon be reduced to a bunch of Alien Perverts, ogling us through their binoculars (probably called something more Alien-like, such as Photon Capacitor Scopes), desperately looking at our chests and trying to find a definitive pair of boobs. We can also imagine their most esteemed scientists having large piles of dirty pictures and pornography, the crown jewels of their research materials.

And so it is with Piping Plover. The stock advice you’ll get on the street, in terms of identifying the gender of PIPL, is that the females tend to be “a little lighter in color” and have “slightly less distinct black neck bands”. That all sounds great until you’re straining your eyes just to see the tiny little PIPL hiding in the shells somewhere. Those modest, relative comparison based tricks work especially poorly when you have a solitary Plover you’re dealing with. Even if you are lucky enough to have a group in front of you, the little buggers are constantly running amok on the beach. It’s hard enough to keep track of who’s-who, let alone who’s-who-compared-to-the-other-who.

Let's talk about Gender, baby.
Silver  Fox on top, Golden Girl on the bottom.

Just like our imagined Alien Biologists, the job becomes a little easier when we’re armed with a little 3p: Piping Plover Pornography. This is a photo of two of LBI’s Piping Plover getting bizzy this season. Witnessing copulation is the ultimate way to determine the gender; remember last season we definitively determined that T2 was a boy. But even better, the above photo shows a male & female PIPL about as close to each other as you’re ever going to see them. The difference in color becomes obvious enough that it might just help you in the field; and stop you from accidentally and embarrassingly telling Tacey she is a “Good Boy!” and Tufters he is a “Sweet Little Princess”