While most beach goers are amused by wildlife, many are openly hostile to birds. Whales, seals, and other marine mammals are totally mainstream. Even people who aren’t all that interested at least pretend to like them. But birds? The most common adjective you’ll hear to describe them on the Jersey Shore is “stupid.” As in, “I can’t believe they closed down the whole beach for some stupid bird.” There is no need to argue with that. As anyone who likes to argue, or any Twitter user for that mater, can tell you, once someone’s argument has degraded to “it’s stupid,” you’ve clearly already won the debate.
Yet I certainly get it. In all honesty, I never had a problem with a bird’s intelligence. I simply have always found most of them to be quite boring. And so hearing people fuss about them was irritating at best; especially when it interrupted or infringed on my ability to party down the shore.
But the Piping Plover eventually won me over. They tricked me. How? Because they don’t really fly all that much around these parts. And so it is really, really easy to forget they are birds at all. They mostly walk, run, crawl, and creep, around the beach, just like you and me. You rarely see them airborne. Instead, you find them strolling along the tideline, looking for treasures, just like us. When they get cold or tired, you’ll see them head up the berm to the warmer sand to sit and have a little rest; just like us. When they see something on the beach that they like, they creep up on it. When something bugs them, they scatter. And when the summer is in full swing, you’ll see them chasing their kids around the beach trying to keep them alive… just like us.
As far as the Shore is concerned, the Piping Plover are truly a creature of the sand, and not the sky. They are in a class of their own.
When I was young and would see these enormous, seemingly vacant, fenced off areas for the stupid birds, it seemed absurd. The stupid birds were surely in the grasses and trees, way back there… why would they close the beach? It reeked of overreach.
It would be decades of summers at the shore before I’d actually meet my first Piping Plover. It was then I would realize those fenced off areas weren’t vacant at all. I’ve since gotten to know them quite well. Quite well, indeed.
And still, whenever I see one fly, I’m gobsmacked. Because having collected so many great memories hanging out on the beach with them in the summer, to the point that I now consider them to be the crown jewel of the coast, I apparently completely forgot they could fly at all. I apparently forgot they were just… stupid birds.