Headed to the Beach? Follow These Tips for a Bird-Friendly Visit

To help nesting shorebirds, make sure to give them plenty of space and clean up plastic trash

Least Tern on nest with eggs ©Michael Stubblefield

(May 26, 2022) Memorial Day in the U.S. marks the unofficial end of spring bird migration and beginning of summer. Millions of people and birds alike will be sharing the beach this weekend, and American Bird Conservancy (ABC) is urging beachgoers to be mindful of birds that have already begun to nest and raise their young along the shore. 

“Long before people were using beaches for various forms of recreation, beaches were productive nesting areas for Wilson's Plover, Snowy Plover, Least Terns, and Black Skimmers, along with many other birds,” said Richard Gibbons, Gulf Coastal Program Manager at ABC. 

Humans can make it more challenging for these birds to nest successfully. Eggs and chicks risk being trampled underfoot or run over by vehicles. Young birds can be killed by predators when they are flushed from their nests or foraging areas by people or off-leash pets that get too close. Disturbed parent birds can be distracted from taking care of their chicks or abandon their nests altogether. 

ABC recommends that beachgoers help coastal birds by keeping a safe distance from the birds and avoiding spots marked as nesting areas. On beaches and islands where birds are nesting and raising their young, remember to “fish, swim, and play from 50 yards away.”

Tips to Share the Beach and Help Coastal Birds

“Taking these actions will do far more than allow these beach-nesting birds to survive,” Gibbons said. “They will profoundly improve your beach-going experience with an increased awareness of place and appreciation of nature.”  

Different regions have different species nesting on the beaches, but many have similar behaviors and reactions to being disturbed. Knowing what you might encounter will help you avoid harming the birds, and it can make your beach trip even more fun. Here are some notable beach-nesting birds in four regions of the United States:

Birds of the Gulf Coast

Least Terns and Black Skimmers nest in colonies along the Gulf Coast. Wilson's and Snowy Plovers maintain single-pair territories, but can often be found within Least Tern colonies. American Oystercatchers tend to be more spread out and favor both beach habitat and islands covered with oyster shells (especially along the upper coast of Texas). Read more about ABC's Gulf Coast conservation effort and how we and our partners are working to help beach-nesting birds.

Birds of the Atlantic Coast

Federally Threatened Piping Plovers 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 you might encounter include the Least Tern, Black Skimmer, American Oystercatcher, and Wilson's Plover.

Birds of the Pacific Coast

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.

Birds of the Great Lakes

Inland beaches are also crucial habitats for shorebirds, and the Great Lakes area shouldn't be overlooked. Federally Endangered Great Lakes Piping Plovers are making a comeback and expanding their range to include historic nesting areas, including places like Illinois and Ohio. Other shorebird species, such as Killdeer, also rely on these areas.

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American Bird Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving wild birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With an emphasis on achieving results and working in partnership, we take on the greatest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on rapid advancements in science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation. Find us on abcbirds.org, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (@ABCbirds).

Media Contact: Jordan Rutter, Director of Public Relations| jerutter@abcbirds.org | @JERutter

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