Share the Beach: Help Shorebirds This Summer

By ecoRI News staff

Threatened piping plovers can be found on Atlantic Coast beaches extending from North Carolina to Maine. (DOI)

Threatened piping plovers can be found on Atlantic Coast beaches extending from North Carolina to Maine. (DOI)

Memorial Day weekend marks the start of summer, when millions of Americans head to beaches, but it’s not just people who flock to the coast this time of year. Many birds have already staked out their own space on the beach, choosing nesting sites on the sand and raising their young along the shoreline, in the dunes, and in nearby marshy areas.

The American Bird Conservancy (ABC) urges beachgoers to be mindful of breeding birds that share vacation spots.

“When people get too close to the birds, it scares them away from their nests or away from their young,” according to the ABC. “It can distract them from taking care of eggs and chicks, leaving young birds vulnerable to hot sun and predators. Being disturbed may even cause parent birds to abandon their nests altogether.”

The ABC recommends that beachgoers help coastal birds by keeping a safe distance from the birds and avoiding spots marked as nesting areas.

The following are some tips for sharing the beach with birds:

Watch where you step. Beach-nesting birds lay their eggs directly on the sand, and those eggs are camouflaged to blend in with their surroundings.

Pay attention to signs. Visitors should respect areas that are roped off or marked with signs indicating that beach-nesting birds are in the vicinity.

Teach children to play responsibly and avoid nesting areas. Encourage kids to learn about and watch out for birds. Ask them to play ball and fly kites away from posted areas to avoid disturbing nests.

Don’t feed gulls. Feeding them draws in even more gulls, which are predators of eggs and vulnerable chicks on the ground. If they become accustomed to being fed, gulls can also become a nuisance for people.

Keep dogs on leashes. Free-roaming dogs can eat eggs and chicks, and even kill adult birds.

Know the cues. Beachgoers often can’t tell the difference between a bird that is simply sitting on the sand and one that is tending eggs, a nest or baby birds. But certain signals and behaviors indicate the presence of nesting birds. For example, you’ve entered a nesting area when large groups or individual birds vocalize loudly, dive-bomb or feign injury to lead you away from their nests.

Stay close to the water. Most nesting birds tend to use higher parts of the beach, away from the surf. It should be possible to avoid conflict with beach nesters so long as people remain close to the water and away from the dunes or areas behind dunes.