Piping Plovers. Photo: Melissa Groo/Audubon Photography Awards

How to Become a Bird-friendly Beachgoer

Going to the beach is great, but people aren’t the only ones who enjoy it. Here’s how you can protect shorebirds while soaking up the sun.

What is your fondest memory of the beach? Is it how you felt when you jumped into the ocean for the very first time? The time you and your friends spent all afternoon building a sandcastle? Or maybe it was watching as birds--gulls and shorebirds and pelicans--ran along or soared above the beach as the waves crashed to shore?

While many of us have strong connections to beaches, coastal areas also play a vital role for many species of birds. On many beaches in North America, it is not uncommon to come across terns, skimmers, oystercatchers, or plovers nesting and trying to raise their chicks. For other birds species, these coastal regions serve as rich sources of food for migratory stopovers.

As we head into the summer season, keep in mind that birds need beaches too. Fortunately, there are some easy but key steps we can all take to be good shore stewards, ensuring that both birds and people will enjoy this vital resource for years to come.

Keep Your Distance! 

Nesting and feeding areas are often posted with signs during breeding season. Even if these areas are not posted, watch your step to ensure you don’t disturb birds, crabs, or other wildlife. Scaring a flock of birds—accidentally or on purpose—puts them in jeopardy, as shorebirds can feed only under certain tidal conditions. Never walk through an area where you see birds feeding, resting, or nesting. Instead, walk around, and you’ll help wild birds thrive by not disturbing them.

As tempting as it might be to get a close look at the cute chicks, please don’t.. Even a single disturbance can cause adult birds to leave their nests and abandon their chicks, often with deadly results. You will know if you are too close to a nest or chicks: The parents will defend their nest by dive-bombing you, calling loudly, or feigning a broken wing nearby. Instead, admire the shorebirds from a distance—and bring your binoculars if you have them!

Keep Pets Leashed

Playful dogs want everyone involved in the fun, but their antics can wreak havoc on shorebird colonies in a matter of seconds. Birds perceive dogs as predators, even if the dogs aren’t chasing them. Respect the posted signs about nesting and other off-limit areas areas and keep your pet leashed whenever you’re near birds. And note there are some areas, such as wildlife preserves, that don’t allow pets at all—even on a leash.

Photo: Camilla Cerea/Audubon

Pick Up Your Trash, You Trash Monster

Despite what the gulls might tell you, a mountain of trash is no fun for birds. Leftover food attracts predators that can attack nests and young birds. Litter also sometimes contains materials that are hazardous or toxic to birds. If you do not see covered or wildlife-proof recycling and trash containers at the beach, take your trash with you and dispose of it properly. Never bury your trash on the beach.

Properly Dispose of Fishing Line

Birds can easily become entangled in loose line, which can trap, injure, or even kill them, so be sure to dispose of your fishing line properly in a monofilament recycling container. Also get rid of bait and scraps from cleaned fish, which can attract predators.

Don’t Feed The Birds or Other Wildlife

This seemingly harmless activity can draw predators, such as rodents, raccoons, gulls, and crows to nesting areas, where they will prey on the eggs and chicks of beach-nesting birds.

Avoid Noisy Activity Near Nesting Areas

Beach activities like flying kites and drones, throwing balls, building bonfires, setting off fireworks, or riding horses, bikes, and ATVs can be good fun—but they can cause birds to leave their nest or chicks unprotected. Put yourself in the feathers of a shorebird chick. How would you feel if you were the size of a tennis ball, weighed two ounces, and couldn’t fly away from danger? Help nesting shorebirds by avoiding these activities.

Volunteer to Be a Beach Steward

Nesting birds are a vital part of the ecosystem and a sign of a healthy beach. Teach others to appreciate beach-nesting birds. For more information, check out our Audubon Coastal Beach Stewardship toolkit, or contact your local Audubon chapter or nature center to discover how you can help . 

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Audubon is a nonprofit dedicated to saving birds and the places they need. You can support our conservation work by making a donation today. 

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