RALEIGH, N.C. (May 16, 2019) – With shorebird nesting now underway along the coast, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission reminds beach-bound visitors to give beach-nesting birds, eggs and chicks a wide berth.
“Sharing the shore” with beach-nesting birds can make a huge difference in how successful they are in breeding, nesting and raising their chicks because 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,” said Dr. Sara Schweitzer, the Commission’s Wildlife Diversity Program coordinator. “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, gull-billed tern and black skimmer, have plummeted in recent years — mainly due to human disturbance and habitat loss. However, increased monitoring efforts and protections have led to stable or increasing numbers of nesting American oystercatchers and Wilson’s plovers along the North Carolina coast.
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 April 1 and Aug. 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.
Download a high-resolution image. Please credit Carmen Johnson.