(Washington, D.C., May 23, 2014) As millions of vacationing Americans head to their nearest beach destination for a long weekend of surf and sun, American Bird Conservancy (ABC) is urging them to be mindful of the many beach-nesting birds that will be tending to their nests and newly hatched young.
“People visiting the beaches are often unaware of the many species of birds that nest in the sands near where they are swimming, fishing, and playing. As a result, nests can accidentally get trampled, destroyed, or abandoned because people get too close,” said Kacy Ray, Gulf Conservation Program Manager for ABC's Gulf Beach-Nesting Bird Conservation Program.
"The best thing for beachgoers to do is to avoid getting close to areas where larger congregations of birds are gathered, and to always respect areas that are roped off or marked with signs designating an area that is used by nesting birds,” said Ray. “The habitat for these birds is diminishing every year due to beach development, erosion, and ever-increasing recreational use, so the birds can really use any break we can give them. They have no other place to go.”
Ray pointed out that it can be difficult for both the year-round resident and the casual vacationer to see the difference between a bird that is simply sitting on the sand and one that is tending eggs or a nest or young.
You know you've entered a nesting area when large groups or individual birds vocalize loudly, dive-bomb your head, or feign injury to lead you away from their nests. If this happens, back away and share the beach so the birds can successfully rear their young.
Ray said that there are special concerns for different regions of the country.
Along the Gulf Coast, you will find Least Terns and Black Skimmers, which nest in colonies. Wilson's and Snowy plovers and American Oystercatchers can also be found but tend to be spread out in more isolated single-pair territories along the coast.
ABC is leading a Gulf Coast conservation effort that is working to identify and implement protective measures for these vulnerable beach-nesting birds. The project utilizes expertise not only from ABC but from partners throughout the Gulf region, including Houston Audubon, Audubon Louisiana, Grand Isle State Park, Gulf State Park, and Eckerd College in Pinellas County, Florida, among many others.
Funded primarily by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the project focuses on protecting and monitoring beach-nesting bird habitat in Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida. It also includes statewide public awareness campaigns in Texas and Louisiana asking boaters, fishermen, and other recreationists to “Fish, Swim, and Play from 50 Yards Away” from birds nesting on islands and beaches. Regional partners in this effort include Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program, Gulf Coast Bird Observatory, and Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries Program.
“It takes a lot of feet on the ground to raise awareness about birds nesting and raising their young on beaches. ABC and its partners are working in the Tampa Bay region; Gulf Shores, Alabama; Grand Isle, Louisiana; and all up and down the Texas coast to help these birds and their young,” said Ray.
The federally threatened Piping Plover can be found on Atlantic Coast beaches extending from North Carolina to Maine. They are especially concentrated along the northeastern coast, notably along the beaches of Long Island, New York, and the southern Delmarva Peninsula. Other species include the Least Tern, Black Skimmer, American Oystercatcher, and Wilson's Plover.
Western beaches host populations of the federally threatened “Western” Snowy Plover, endangered "California" Least Tern, and the Black Oystercatcher (which is more frequently found on rocky, rather than sandy, beaches). While the terns tend to be colonial in their nesting habits, the plovers are more spread out, often favoring sites where rivers enter the ocean.
Ray said that most nesting birds tend to use higher parts of the beach away from the surf, so 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 higher areas.
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