Share the Beach: Help Coastal Birds This Summer

Beachgoers Asked to "Fish, Swim, and Play from 50 Yards Away"
Snowy Plover Chick by Vincenzo Iacovoni, Shutterstock. Help coastal birds by giving them space to raise their young.

Snowy Plovers and other beach-nesting birds may be the unintended victims when people flock to beaches in the summer. Photo by Vincenzo Iacovoni/Shutterstock

Contact: Jennifer Howard, 202-888-7472

(Washington, D.C., May 26, 2016) Memorial Day marks the start of summer, when millions of Americans head to beaches to enjoy time in the sun. It's not just people who flock to the shore 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. American Bird Conservancy (ABC) is urging beachgoers to be mindful of breeding birds that share our vacation spots and help coastal birds this summer.

“Many beach-nesting bird species, like Snowy Plover and Black Skimmer, are in decline and really need our help,” said Kacy Ray, Gulf Conservation Program Manager Gulf for ABC's Gulf Coastal Program. Eggs and chicks risk being trampled or run over by vehicles, and young birds can be killed by predators when they are flushed from their nests or foraging areas.

“When people get too close to the birds, it scares them away from their nests or away from their young,” Ray said. “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.”

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
  • 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. ABC recommends that beachgoers avoid areas where large congregations of birds occur.
  • 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. “The habitat for these birds is diminishing every year due to beach development, erosion, climate change, and ever-increasing recreational use,” Ray said. “We have to be mindful that while the beach is a place where we go to relax and have fun, the birds have no other place to go.”
  • 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 bird families.
  • 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 your dogs on leashes—or at home. Free-roaming dogs can eat eggs and chicks and even kill adult birds. Dogs can also overheat at the beach, so for their safety as well as that of the birds, they may be better off at home.
  • 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. “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,” Ray said. “If this happens, back away and share the beach so the birds can successfully rear their young.”
  • 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.

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 three 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, N.Y., 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.


American Bird Conservancy is the Western Hemisphere's bird conservation specialist—the only organization with a single and steadfast commitment to achieving conservation results for native birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With a focus on efficiency and working in partnership, we take on the toughest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on sound science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation.