RALEIGH – 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.”
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.
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.
Not all nesting areas on an island or 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:
— Keeping dogs on a leash at all times. Dogs may chase and harass birds, as well as trample nests, killing chicks or crushing eggs.
— Driving only on the lower beach and driving slowly enough to avoid running over chicks.
— Taking trash with them when leaving the beach, including bait and scraps from cleaned fish — all of which can attract predators, such as gulls, raccoons, feral cats and foxes.
— Discarding fishing line or kite string in an appropriate receptacle. These materials can entangle and kill birds and other wildlife.
— Not feeding gulls on the beach. Gulls are a major predator of young chicks and eggs.
For information about beach-nesting waterbirds and how to protect them, visit the Commission’s Conserving page, www.ncwildlife.org/conserving.