The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection has announced measures to protect birds that live in coastal and offshore areas and is asking for the public’s cooperation in ensuring the safety of these species.
The DEP announced that Charles Island in Milford and Duck Island in Westbrook will be closed to the public from now through Sept. 9, 2011, to prevent disturbances to nesting birds. Both islands have been designated by DEP as Natural Area Preserves, primarily because of their importance as nesting habitats for several state-listed birds, including snowy egrets and great egrets (state threatened species), glossy ibis, and little blue herons (state special concern). The two islands have also been designated as Important Bird Areas by Audubon Connecticut.
In addition, the DEP is asking beachcombers, sunbathers, and boaters along the Connecticut shoreline to respect the fencing and yellow signs warning of piping plover and least tern nesting sites. The piping plover, a small, sandy-colored shorebird about the size of a sparrow, is a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act, as well as a state threatened species in Connecticut. The small, gull-like least tern, which nests in colonies in the same beach habitat as the piping plover, also is a state threatened species.
“Each year the DEP closes Charles and Duck Island during the nesting season to protect various bird species and to safeguard piping plovers and least terns on their beaches,” said DEP Deputy Commissioner Susan Frechette. “Closing the islands and enlisting the public’s help and cooperation are simple but effective ways to protect these birds.”
Background: Closing of Charles and Duck Islands
Protecting heron and egret nesting areas on Charles and Duck Islands are important steps to prevent disturbances that can result in abandonment of the nests and possibly of the entire colony. This would have a tremendous negative effect on these declining bird populations.
To protect the nesting colonies (also known as rookeries) on Charles and Duck Islands, educational signs have been erected at access points describing these rare birds and why they should not be disturbed. Additionally, the sites are posted with island closure notices; the rookeries are fenced; and signs are posted that read “Do Not Enter – Bird Nesting Area.”
“When young birds become agitated by disturbances, they often fall from the nest,” added Deputy Commissioner Frechette. “The adults then will not care for these grounded young birds, which ultimately die of starvation or predation. If the disturbances continue repeatedly, the adults may completely abandon the nesting area.”
Examples of disturbances to these rookeries include unleashed dogs (which are perceived as predators by the birds), boat and kayak landings, humans approaching fenced nesting areas, camp-outs, and bonfires.
Signs stating the closure of Charles and Duck Islands are posted and DEP Environmental Conservation Police Officers will be patrolling the islands, particularly on weekends and after dark. Anyone caught trespassing on the islands will be arrested. Landing of watercraft on the beaches is prohibited. The public can help to protect nesting birds by following the closure and reporting any observed violations at 1-800-842-4357.
Background: Protection of Piping Plovers and Least Terns
Each year, the DEP delineates nesting sites of these state-threatened birds with rope or fencing to prevent human disturbance, which may cause nest abandonment or the loss of eggs and chicks. This step is taken in an effort to reverse the decline in piping plover and least tern populations caused by the loss of beach habitat to residential and recreational development.
These shorebirds need special protection throughout their April to August nesting season and especially during the increased beach activity over the long Memorial Day and Fourth-of-July weekends. By obeying the warning signs and staying away from the fenced areas, beach visitors can avoid disturbing the nesting birds.
Both piping plovers and least terns use a shallow depression in the sand for a nest. Their sand-colored eggs and young are so well camouflaged that they are easily stepped on. When intruders approach, young piping plovers are likely to stand motionless while the adult tries to attract attention by pretending to have a broken wing or flying around the intruder. If you witness this behavior, DEP advises you to move away from the area at once. Further disturbance may cause the adults to leave the nesting area, subjecting eggs or young to death by exposure or predation.
The DEP Wildlife Division also provides the following advice to protect nesting shorebirds:
- Refrain from walking dogs or allowing cats to roam freely on beaches during the nesting season. Dogs and cats are frequent predators of piping plovers and least terns.
- Always keep dogs on a leash.
- If you live near a beach, do not let your pets roam during the nesting season.
- Do not bury or leave trash, picnic leftovers, and fish scraps on a beach. They attract predators of shorebird chicks and eggs, such as skunks, raccoons, foxes, and black-backed gulls.
- Do not attempt to “rescue” young birds that appear to be lost or too young.
- Do not attempt to remove young birds from the beach to care for them at home. In most cases, when immature birds are found alone, the adults have been frightened away but remain nearby and will return to their young once the intruder leaves.
It is illegal to hold wildlife for rehabilitation without proper state or federal permits. In addition, shorebirds have a unique diet that people would find hard to duplicate, probably resulting in starvation of the young bird. Any violations affecting wildlife should be reported to the DEP’s 24-hour, toll-free hot line: 1-800-842-HELP.