Ah, Independence Day at the beach: a vivid sunset, warm sand, the boom and crackle of fireworks . . . and the shrieks of frightened shorebirds, scared off their nests by all the celebration.
To us, fireworks displays are a colorful display of national devotion, but to birds, they can be deadly. Fireworks set off near colonies of nesting shorebirds can spook the parents into leaving their nests—with consequences for their babies. The tiny, fluffy chicks are left vulnerable to predators, like gulls and raccoons. The stakes are especially high this weekend: the chicks have hatched, but aren't strong enough to run away yet. “We’ve seen entire colonies [of shorebirds] fail over the Fourth of July weekend,” says Julie Wraithmell, Director of Wildlife Conservation for Audubon Florida. At risk are birds like Least Terns, American Oystercatchers, and federally endangered Piping Plovers.
Does this mean we need to ban our beach festivities altogether? Luckily, you don’t have to be a killjoy to keep from killing birds. But if you’re going to enjoy fireworks on the Fourth, do so responsibly: go see a pre-planned civic or commercial fireworks display. Most cities plan their shows far away from sensitive nesting grounds, and are willing to move them if there’s a problem. The main thing to avoid is shooting off your own fireworks on the beach—that’s where bird casualties are most likely. It's all too easy to accidentally overlook a camouflaged bird nest, and what looks like a safe, empty stretch of land for launching fireworks could be some bird's nursery.
If you really want to go all-in to help shorebirds this summer, you can volunteer to keep them safe from revelers and beachgoers. Check with your local Audubon society to see if they can recommend a bird steward program.
Of course, the beach is also a place to just relax. But please, treat the birds with respect. On this loudest, proudest day of patriotism, America’s natural treasures are certainly worth celebrating—and protecting.
1. Keep out of labelled shorebird nesting areas. The signs are there for a reason.
2. Watch your feet if you suspect there’s an unmarked nest around. Piping Plover nests can be almost invisible on a pebbly beach, and it’s easy for beachgoers to accidentally step on them.
3. Don’t fly kites or drones near protected areas. To nervous parent birds, they can look like hungry peregrine falcons.
4. Keep your pets on leashes. Better yet, leave them at home. Your dog is just as curious about birds as you are, but it won’t know to leave the nests alone.
5. Pick up all your trash. Leftover picnic scraps can attract predators like gulls, foxes, and even coyotes.