Help protect the piping plovers and their adorable chicks

NEW JERSEY (WABC) -- Anyone visiting the Tri-State Area's bountiful shorelines have probably seen cordoned off areas of piping plovers, so as not to disturb bird breeding grounds.

The endangered species comes to our area every year to nest, and right now is prime time for their tiny chicks.

"If you see the birds, it's wonderful to see them, but you want give them their space," Gateway Resource Chief Patti Rafferty said.

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The most important message is "please stay back," as there are only about 7,000 piping plovers left in the world -- and they love to nest on our dunes.

"Just people walking along the beach can disrupt their feeding patterns," Rafferty said. "Instead of them being down at the water line, getting food, they're running around trying to avoid people."

What is crucial is that the babies eat. They must gain weight extremely fast, and all their food is at the water's edge.

"We are in it, this is it," said Chris Allieri, founder of the non-profit "So the chicks are born, and they need about three weeks to fly."

Allieri trains volunteers who warn beachgoers about piping plovers. The biggest dangers are curious people, kids, and off leash dogs.

If the chicks are frightened, they can't get to food. They won't eat, and they will die.

"They are a tiny, tiny little being in a big bad world," Allieri said.

The chicks are roughly the size of a cotton ball.

"With two little sticks (for legs)," Allieri said. "They are impossibly cute."

But they are as cute as they are vulnerable. So please help by staying back and warning others. Not everyone is aware.

"I am deputizing your viewers," Allieri said. "To speak up, to be friendly."

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The species can thrive if everyone works together.

"It's a great victory when you have a chick that gets old enough to fledge and be able to start flying," Rafferty said.

You can watch for the piping plovers from Connecticut all the way down to Cape May, New Jersey.

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