RALEIGH, N.C. (May 17, 2018) – The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission is urging beach-bound visitors to “share the shore” with waterbirds now that nesting season is underway along the coast.
Giving beach-nesting birds a wide berth can have a huge impact on the success of shorebirds and colonial nesting waterbirds, which use North Carolina’s barrier islands to breed, nest and raise their chicks.
“Beach-nesting birds are a vital component of our barrier-island ecosystem and a sign of a healthy beach,” said Dr. Sara Schweitzer, the Commission’s waterbird biologist. “It’s very important that people who visit the coast remember to watch out for beach-nesting birds and to give them a wide berth,” Schweitzer said, adding that these birds are very sensitive to human disturbance.
Eggs and chicks are well camouflaged to protect them from predators, so they can easily be stepped on and crushed. Humans, as well as their pets, can upset nesting birds by wandering too close to nesting areas, which may cause the adult birds to fly off, leaving the eggs or chicks vulnerable.
“Birds have their ways of letting you know when you’re too close,” Schweitzer said. “They’ll do things like dive-bombing you, or calling loudly. Some species will pretend to have a broken wing to lure you or other perceived predators away from the nest and chicks.”
Skimmers, terns, oystercatchers and plovers are some of the bird species that nest on the beach. Populations of several of these species, such as the common tern, Wilson’s plover and American oystercatcher, have plummeted in recent years — mainly due to human disturbance and habitat loss.
“The common tern was, at one time, abundant along North Carolina’s beaches,” Schweitzer said. “However, their populations have declined by nearly 80 percent since biologists began conducting coast-wide surveys in the late 1970s.”
Because many visitors may not recognize fragile bird-nesting habitat, the Commission posts signs around important beach-nesting areas. The black-and-white signs help visitors avoid nesting grounds from April 1 through Aug. 31 — the sensitive nesting and brood-rearing season — and advise that entering an area can result in the loss of eggs or chicks.
Wildlife Commission staff remind boaters as well to be mindful of nesting birds on islands, particularly if they approach an island posted with the black-and-white signs.
“We would really like everyone to abide by the posted areas, and stay off islands that are marked as bird-nesting areas,” Schweitzer said. Also note that no dogs are allowed on posted islands. One dog can destroy an entire bird nesting colony in minutes, so please keep your dog on a leash at the beach and do not let them on bird nesting islands between May 1 and August 31.
Some islands that serve as beach-nesting habitat are not marked with black-and-white signs, such as many of the state’s marsh islands in the sounds. Schweitzer recommends that people give these islands a buffer between their activities and any nesting birds.
“American oystercatchers, for example, nest on several small islands along the Intracoastal Waterway and other small islands in sounds, and most of these islands are not managed by the Wildlife Commission and are not posted,” Schweitzer said.
Likewise, not all nesting areas on the beach are posted, so coastal visitors, as well as residents, should be aware of their surroundings whenever they are in areas that birds prefer for nesting and raising chicks. Other ways beach-goers can help protect nesting shorebirds are by:
For more information about beach-nesting waterbirds and how to protect them, download the “Sharing the Shore with North Carolina’s Beach-Nesting Birds” document or visit the Commission’s Conserving page, www.ncwildlife.org/conserving.
Research, management and waterbird surveys in North Carolina are directed by the N.C. Wildlife Action Plan. Projects are funded through the Nongame and Endangered Wildlife and the Pittman-Robertson funds, which are administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Commission uses these funds and federal State Wildlife Grants to support nongame species research and management through its Wildlife Diversity Program.
Jodie B. Owen
Download a high-resolution version of the image above. Please credit Annika Andersson/NCWRC