How to Help Coastal Birds

Want to help coastal birds? Here are some easy ways to get involved. It all starts with knowing what to look for.

American Oystercatchers, Elliotte Rusty Harold/Shutterstock

American Oystercatchers, Elliotte Rusty Harold/Shutterstock

Helping Coastal Birds: The Basics

Waterbirds and shorebirds nest on coastal beaches and islands, along freshwater rivers, and near other bodies of water. Some species, such as Least Terns, Black Skimmers, herons, egrets, and pelicans, nest in groups called colonies. Others, such as Snowy Plovers and American Oystercatchers, are solitary nesters with defined territories that are defended by the adult pair.

Have you ever been on the beach or an island when suddenly birds began to dive-bomb you, fly around your head, and vocalize loudly? This is the birds’ way of telling you (and other potential threats such as gulls, dogs, and cats) that they don’t like how close you are to their nests or young. Both solitary and colonial nesting birds will vocalize when disturbed; others will even pretend to have a broken wing, leading predators or people away from their nests or young. This behavior is called a “broken-wing display.”  But when adult birds are off their nests, their eggs and chicks are vulnerable to overheating in the sun or at risk of being eaten by predators.

Snowy Plover showing broken wing display, Katheryn Harris

Snowy Plover showing broken wing display, Katheryn Harris

Know When Birds Are Disturbed

By paying attention to the behavior of beach-nesting birds, you can tell when they’re disturbed and politely (or not-so politely) asking you to back off. Here are some signs that you need to give birds more space:

  • Flying and swooping unusually close or dive-bombing your head
  • High-pitched or more frequent vocalizations
  • Flying from one area of an island to another or away from the island
  • Defecating
  • “Broken wing display” (bird acts like it is injured to lure you away from its nest)

Kristen Vale and Robert Finer, Bolivar Flats, TX. Help Coastal Birds

Kristen Vale (ABC) and Robert Finer (Houston Audubon), Bolivar Flats, TX with sign reminding beach-goers to stay away from nests

Take Action to Help Gulf Coast Birds

Here are some easy ways you can help ensure that beach-nesting birds can safely breed:

  • “Fish, Swim, and Play from 50 Yards Away”—give beach-nesting birds at least this much or more space between you and their nest sites.
  • Pay attention to posted areas with signs and fencing on beaches and islands.
  • Avoid anchoring your boat on or near an island with groups of nesting birds.
  • Don’t feed gulls. Feeding can lead to unnaturally high numbers of gulls, which then prey on other birds’ eggs and young.
  • Keep an eye on children and pets to prevent them from wandering into posted areas or onto islands with nesting birds.
  • Leave pets at home if the beach or island you are visiting prohibits them. If you bring your dog, keep it on a leash at all times.
  • Discard of fishing line appropriately. Birds can become entangled and can become injured or die.
  • Report incidents of nest destruction and disturbance to your state wildlife agency.
  • Donate to our effort to protect and restore beach-nesting birds’ habitat.

You can educate others about bird conservation! Photo: Kacy Ray stewarding in Bolivar Flats, Texas

Ready to Get More Involved?

Volunteer to be a Bird Steward! These important volunteers help us educate beach-goers about nesting birds during weekends and holidays. Armed with spotting scopes and binoculars, stewards encourage beach visitors to see the birds incubating their eggs or taking care of their chicks from a safe distance to avoid disturbing the birds.

They also direct people away from nesting areas posted with signs and interact with local land managers and police to report unsafe activities on the beach. It’s a great role if you enjoy connecting people with nature.

Want to volunteer to become a bird steward at a nesting location near your home? Contact us.

Use Our Coastal Bird Curriculum: If you are a teacher near one of our coastal locations (Pinellas County, Florida; Gulf Shores, Alabama; Jefferson and Cameron Parishes, Louisiana; Galveston, Texas; Freeport-Matagorda, Texas; or Corpus Christi, Texas), please contact us about our in-class curriculum about coastal birds. Reach us here.