A single piping plover, gone for the winter, is threatening to cancel a traditional Fourth of July fireworks display on a Cape Cod beach that attracts 100,000 spectators each year.
Actually, the U.S. Department of Fisheries and Wildlife is making the threat on behalf of the endangered bird, which built a nest last year on the very beach where the fireworks are set.
The empty nest sits in beach grass in Barnstable’s Kalmus Park, a 20-acre stretch of sand that curves along the Atlantic Ocean.
Should the plover return this summer, the tiny, gray beach bird might be too rattled by the booming fireworks. Siding with the bird’s safety over patriotic fun, Fisheries and Wildlife has ordered the celebration to relocate or shut down.
“Over my dead body,” Councilman John Boyle said Thursday night.
“We’re celebrating Independence Day because our forefathers felt that government was getting overbearing so they stood up and did the right thing,” he said. “And now it’s deja vu all over again because the federal government is telling us what to do.”
Barnstable, 60 miles southeast of Boston, has been holding its fireworks display for many years.
The piping plover nest and its single feathered occupant were discovered in the grass last June. By then it was too late to do anything about the July Fourth celebrations.
But the town did send a committee to watch over the bird during the celebration to make sure it was not startled.
“Yes, the piping plover was monitored,” Boyle said. “I wanted to know personally how it felt about the fireworks. Although no one could verify this, rumor has it that it went ‘Ahhhhhhhh,’ when it saw our fireworks.”
This year, the federal government is demanding that fireworks be shot off no closer than about four miles from the nest.
The town could rent a barge and shoot off the fireworks from the ocean. But at $15,000, the cost would be more than the fireworks display, said Councilman Leonard Gobeil.
Officials are hoping someone will donate a barge. Meanwhile, the nest could be endangered as well.
“I think if it’s the will of one particular councilman, namely myself, let’s move the bird nest,” Gobeil said. “But it’s illegal.”