BROOKLYN (CN) - New York's failure to remove feral cat colonies at Jones Beach is threatening the endangered piping plover, the American Bird Conservancy says in a federal complaint.
Jones Beach State Park is located on a barrier island in Nassau County. In addition to attracting sunbathers and concertgoers, the beach serves as a nesting site in the summer for piping plovers.
The conservancy says two feral cat colonies live on the Long Island beach as well, however, one a quarter-mile away from the piping plover nesting area, and another a little more than a half-mile away.
Citing annual surveys that consistently observe cats in the piping plover's nesting area, the conservancy calls it a near certainty that the cats are "traveling from the colony sites to the nest sites" where they kill baby chicks.
The bird-loving nonprofit filed its suit Thursday against Rose Harvey, commissioner of New York's Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
It says birders regularly visit Jones Beach to watch the piping plovers, and "derive immense recreational, aesthetic, spiritual and other benefits from watching these birds in their courting, feeding, nesting and chick-rearing activities."
For 31 years the birds have been on the Endangered Species List, but the conservancy says outdoor cats are responsible for the extinction of 33 bird species and "billions" of bird deaths.
"The mere presence of cats can cause behavioral changes in birds that reduce fecundity and may cause significant adverse effects on bird populations," a federal complaint filed Thursday by the conservancy states. "Thus, even when cats do not directly kill wildlife, their presence likely results in a significant reduction in the feeding of nesting chicks and an increased likelihood of nest failure by an order of magnitude."
Though the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service documented the threat feral cats pose to the birds along the Atlantic Coast in a 2009 report, the conservancy says New Yorkers make matters worse by feeding the cats that live on the six-mile stretch of sand at Jones.
The parks department and its "inaction has long authorized these activities despite the nearby presence of the protected piping plovers and despite the Parks Office longstanding recognition of the threat to piping plovers posed by feral cats," according to the complaint.
Leaving the cats be makes it "reasonably certain" that the birds will be wiped out, the lawsuit states.
The Audubon-focused group wants the parks department to remove the feral cats, to stop the public from feeding them, plus damages against the parks department for violating the Endangered Species Act.
Jeffrey Simes with Goodwin Procter LLP in Manhattan represents the American Bird Conservancy in the lawsuit.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.