Conserve Wildlife Blog

How to Advocate for Beach-nesting Birds During the Holiday Weekends

May 26th, 2023

By Sherry Tirgrath, Wildlife Biologist

As we approach the official, and unofficial, beginning of summer, many warm-weather loving citizens of New Jersey are pulling out their swimwear, purchasing their SPF and preparing to flock to the Jersey Shore and contribute to some of the worst traffic seen around the country. It’s important, however, to take a step back and remind oneself to be certain that their beach activities will not affect the livelihood of other creatures that are just trying to survive in the only habitat that can support them. Both Memorial Day Weekend and July 4th holidays occur during the season that beach-nesting birds are incubating eggs and raising chicks. This makes for some conflict between beachgoers and coastal wildlife, so it’s necessary to bring more awareness to the presence of the birds and the importance of giving them space.

Beach-nesting birds are called just that because they depend on undisturbed, sparsely vegetated, and stabile coastline to breed, lay eggs, and raise their young. They nest directly in the sand and their eggs are sand-colored and camouflaged against predators. This also makes them difficult for people to see, and without proper monitoring and protection measures, they can wind up being run over or stepped on. Small chicks, like those of the piping plover, are tiny and very mobile shortly after hatching. While the parents do their best at corralling their chicks and keeping them away from people, sometimes the chicks wind up under a beachgoer’s umbrella seeking shade or wandering too close to potential danger. Anyone with small children would understand the difficulty in keeping their kids from running off somewhere they’re not supposed to go, especially when they can have up to four of them at once. The chicks must forage to feed themselves, so being very mobile increases the likelihood of them finding small invertebrates to eat.

Piping plover chicks are small but very mobile, allowing them to begin foraging shortly after hatching.

Wildlife technicians in the field monitor beach-nesting birds like piping plovers, least terns, black skimmers, and American oystercatchers to locate nests, set up symbolic fencing and signage, and track the behavior of the birds until they disperse at the end of the season. The technicians set up the fencing according to where the birds nest, but that doesn’t mean the birds will stay confined to that fenced area. Sometimes the area that is fenced isn’t spacious enough to give the adult birds a sense of security and they may get frightened and leave their nest exposed. An exposed nest is easily noticed by nest predators like gulls and crows, which will take advantage of a situation where humans have caused the incubating adult to leave the nest unattended. Oftentimes, beachgoers will set up their blankets and belongings next to fencing and even hang objects on the fence poles. This can cause serious stress to the parent birds and can result in them abandoning their nests. When chicks are present and surrounded by humans using the beach for recreation, they may not be able to access their foraging area safely. Chicks may starve or not acquire enough food to sustain their energy to thrive.

Tracks from off-road vehicles and heavy machinery, like beach rakes, can create deep grooves in the sand that can trap small chicks. The chicks will die from heat exhaustion and dehydration if they can’t escape the tire ruts. Pets on the beach, both leashed and off-leash, can chase adult birds, kill chicks, and force parent birds to abandon a nesting site or even their broods if they are stressed enough. Dogs appear as predators to beach-nesting birds, and a beach with many predators on it will not support breeding pairs. This is why the regulations regarding pets on beaches need to be enforced and taken seriously. Excessive trash on the beach is also a big concern when birds are nesting. Trash attracts predators like fox, gulls, and raccoons. When garbage cans are overflowing, or beachgoers leave food items and trash on the beach, predators are drawn to these areas for the accessibility to human food. More predators mean a higher chance of eggs or chicks being discovered and predated.

To reduce the impact humans have on beach-nesting birds, and lower the risk of harm coming to them, precautions should be taken and mindfulness prioritized. Give the beach-nesting bird protection areas a wide berth. Do not set up your beach items near the fencing and try to prevent recreation in front of or around it. If people are hovering around the fencing, and it’s obvious that the parent birds are uncomfortable, ask them to give the birds space and observe from a distance. If chicks are present, you may even have the honor of “babysitting” them by watching their movements and preventing people from getting too close to them. Avoid walking dogs on beaches with pet restrictions. There are beaches in New Jersey that are dog-friendly year-round and won’t result in any wildlife being disturbed. And lastly, pack out your trash and food items with you at the end of the day. Don’t feed the gulls or any other wildlife on the beach. If waste bins on the beach are overflowing, notify the appropriate maintenance people and find somewhere else to dispose of your garbage. Remember – contributing to the problem is just as bad as causing it. Do your part to be a conservation hero and advocate for protecting beach-nesting birds this summer. Every person that cares, counts.

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One Response to “How to Advocate for Beach-nesting Birds During the Holiday Weekends”

  1. Freda Karpf says:

    thank you for this most important information, please keep it coming and ask everyone to share it on their social media.