Georgia’s beaches are not only vacation hotspots, in early spring and summer they’re top spots for nesting shorebirds.
American oystercatchers, Wilson’s plovers and least terns use sites such as Little Tybee Island, Pelican Spit off Sea Island, Cumberland Island and the southern end of Jekyll Island. Among other species, black skimmer, royal tern and gull-billed tern also nest along beaches. In nesting areas, human disturbance is a significant threat for these birds, which already face risks from native predators and high spring tides. Pets also can be destructive, killing or scaring birds.
To help beach-nesting birds, visitors to Georgia beaches are encouraged to:
- Avoid posted sites.
- Walk below the high-tide line.
- Watch beach birds only from a distance and back away from any nesting birds they accidentally disturb.
Adults frightened from a nest will often call loudly and exhibit distraction displays, such as dragging one wing as if it’s broken.
“Typically, if you’re in the wrong place, the birds will try to let you know it – it is just a matter of paying attention,” said Tim Keyes, a Georgia Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist.
Also, leave dogs at home or keep them on a leash when visiting a beach where dogs are allowed. Owners who let their dogs chase shorebirds can be fined for harassing federally protected species.
“Dogs and beach wildlife are incompatible,” Keyes said.
He also noted there are several coastal sites where pets are excluded by regulation or law and owners can be cited for bringing a dog. These sites include the entire beachfront portion of Little Tybee Island, St. Catherines Island Bar and Little Egg Island Bar (both of which are also closed to people), Pelican Spit, and Satilla Marsh Island.
Beach-nesting birds nest above the high-tide line on wide, terraced beach flats or in the edge of dunes. In Georgia, the birds lay eggs in shallow scrapes in the sand from April through July. After hatching, chicks hide on the beach or in the grass. Disturbance by humans or pets can cause adult birds to abandon nests and chicks, exposing them to extreme heat and predators.
This spring and summer, take special care to share the beach for the benefit of nesting birds.
Keyes, who works for the DNR Wildlife Resources Division’s Nongame Conservation Section, said the threats are similar for migrating seabirds and shorebirds. Georgia beaches provide vital stopover sites for species such as federally threatened red knots flying from South America and the Arctic. Red knots flushed from feeding might not gain the weight they need to survive their more than 9,000-mile migration.
Georgians can help conserve Wilson’s plovers and other rare and endangered animals by purchasing or renewing a bald eagle or hummingbird license plate, or donating directly to the Georgia Wildlife Conservation Fund. The Nongame Conservation Section needs this support, because it depends largely on fundraisers, grants and direct donations to protect Georgia’s nongame wildlife, rare plants and natural habitats. Details at www.georgiawildlife.com/conservation/support or (478) 994-1438.
BEST BIRD BEACH BEHAVIOR
How can you help birds when visiting a Georgia beach?
- Stay in high-traffic areas; birds are less likely to nest where crowds gather.
- Walk below the high-tide line or on wet-sand beaches.
- Avoid posted nesting sites.
- Observe beach birds only from a distance. Back away from any nesting birds you accidentally disturb. (Adults frightened from a nest will often call loudly and exhibit distraction displays, such as dragging one wing as if it’s broken.)
- Leave dogs at home or keep them on a leash when visiting a beach where they’re allowed. (Owners who let their dogs chase shorebirds can be fined for harassing federally protected species.)
- Keep house cats indoors, and don’t feed feral cats. Cats often prey on birds.
Beach-nesting bird photographs, tips and video are available at www.georgiawildlife.org/beachbirds.