It’s Nesting Season: Don’t Forget to Share the Shore with Coastal Birds

Birds like plovers and terns need our help to safely raise their chicks on beaches this summer.
Two plovers sit in the sand on a beach next to washed up seaweed.
Snowy Plovers. Photo: Katherine Pirozzi/Audubon Photography Awards

As the weather warms up, many of us will be visiting the beach this summer. We’re not the only ones who love the sun and sand—tiny, cotton-ball-sized chicks like Western Snowy Plovers will soon be hatching and running around on those same beaches. They’re well camouflaged and easy to miss, so they need our help to make sure they can grow up safely, even while we’re nearby enjoying the beach with our families and pets.

That’s where Audubon’s Coastal Bird Stewardship Program comes in. Audubon staff, partners, and volunteers work together across the hemisphere to protect a multitude of coastal bird species from stressors as they nest, raise their chicks, migrate, or winter on beaches and islands. 

The program started a century ago, when Reddish Egrets were thought to be extinct due to the plume trade, until a colony was discovered on Green Island in south Texas. To protect this lone rookery, the National Audubon Society began our Coastal Warden program, leasing coastal bird rookery islands from the state of Texas to protect colonial wading birds from poachers.

Today, our coastal bird stewardship program has grown to over 500 active sites, with more than 1,500 volunteers and 250 partner organizations working together each season to protect birds from the impacts of human disturbance, habitat loss, and the effects of a changing climate.

The stewardship program trains volunteers to protect our coastal nesting birds through long-term monitoring, signage and fencing, beachgoer education, and working with coastal communities. Activities look different in each community and for different bird species, but the outcome is the same: stewardship activities are essential to helping coastal birds thrive.

Science has shown this to be true. In 2021, the Audubon Science team published a study in the journal Conservation Biology that examined close to 400 sites managed for birds by Audubon across the Gulf and Atlantic coasts. The study authors found that the populations of four species (Black Skimmer, Brown Pelican, Least Tern, and Piping Plover) grew 2 to 34 times faster at sites with active stewardship compared to sites that were protected but not actively stewarded.

That’s because human disturbance on beaches is not the only stressor on these vulnerable birds. Climate change is causing increased flooding, storms, and sea-level rise, leading nests to get washed out by storm surge and beaches to erode. Additionally, what we learn from stewardship activities informs our work to advance policies and projects that protect and restore these vulnerable coastlines. The on-the-ground stewardship work conducted by coastal staff and volunteers provides critical data to help us understand what birds will need to thrive under changing conditions.

How you can help

When you’re out at the beach this summer, here are four simple things you can do to keep coastal birds safe.

  • Stay away from areas that have been roped off for nesting birds, and avoid walking through flocks of birds. Birds need space to thrive! If a parent is scared off a nest, they can expose their eggs or chicks to potentially fatal heat or predators. Getting too close also causes stress to the birds, wasting their precious energy. If space allows, give birds at least 100 feet of distance, and make sure to follow any more specific local guidelines.
  • Only take your pup to beaches where dogs are allowed, and remember to always use a leash. We love dogs, but unfortunately our furry friends look like predators to coastal birds.
  • Take your trash with you when you leave. Garbage can attract predators, and some trash such as fishing line can entangle birds.
  • Remind others to share the shore using our social media toolkit.

Volunteer at a beach near you

If you want to do even more to help coastal birds, you can get directly involved in coastal stewardship at a beach near you by clicking on the links below. If your community doesn’t have a coastal stewardship program yet, you can start one—check out Audubon’s stewardship toolkit, a guide to engaging in advocacy and organizing volunteers at your beach.