NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - Some beachgoers are calling it a heartless crime.
Vandals allegedly trespassed over dunes in Breezy Point where piping plovers, a rare bird species, had built fragile nests in the sand. A suspect apparently reached in and destroyed all the endangered eggs.
Who would want to victimize these endangered, innocent little beach birds?
The United States Park Police released disturbing photos, calling the act cowardly. And naturalists are furious.
Someone allegedly trespassed onto Gateway National Park restricted land, ripped open netting that protects the struggling piping plovers and removed and crushed eight baby eggs that were days from hatching. It occurred at two endangered locations along the Breezy Point shoreline.
"There's few people who can look at baby piping plovers and not immediately fall in love with them, and want to do something for them," Tony Luscombe, a National Park Service biologist, told CBS 2's Jennifer McLogan.
Federal investigators discovered a single set of human tracks approaching both enclosures that proceeded east. Luscombe and his scientists had been monitoring the birds -- eager for the chicks to hatch -- as the species is near extinction.
Considered mild and trusting, the piping plover builds its nest by scraping a sand hole near the ocean.
"I feel bad for the birds," one animal lover said.
For the past 15 years -- from The Rockaways to Montauk -- sections of beach have been declared off-limits to allow the tiny birds to breed and raise their young. That has created controversy, as some beachgoers in The Hamptons demanded full access. Ultimately a protest grew, with signs reading, "Piping plover tastes like chicken."
Killing or harassing adult plovers and their chicks is a felony, punishable by hefty fines and even jail time. United States Park Police said that they have no leads at this time.
National Park Service biologists fear that the fragile ecosystem will be compromised if the piping plover becomes extinct.
Sound off with your thoughts and comments on this disturbing story below...
for more features.