The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is asking for the public’s help in protecting birds that nest in coastal areas, especially during the very busy summer beach season.
Piping plovers, least terns, herons, and egrets, whether on nests or in feeding areas, are all especially vulnerable to disturbance from kites, fireworks, and unattended cats and dogs. Once disturbed, these birds may abandon nesting areas, leaving eggs and hatchlings to die from exposure or predation. In addition, beachcombers, sunbathers, and boaters can inadvertently trample piping plover and least tern eggs and young if they are not vigilant. To avoid this, the DEP has erected fencing and yellow warning signs along beaches where these birds build their shallow sand nests. Similarly, the DEP has cordoned off various off-shore islands where herons and egrets congregate in nesting areas called rookeries.
“Shorebirds and wading birds need special protection throughout their April to September nesting season,” said Susan Frechette, Deputy Commissioner of the DEP. “We urge beachgoers to keep fireworks and kites, especially kites that make noise, away from beach areas. We are also asking people to keep their pets leashed and to stay away from fenced areas.”
The piping plover, a small sandy-colored shorebird about the size of a robin, is a threatened species under both the federal and state Endangered Species Acts. The small, gull-like least tern nests in colonies in the same beach habitat as the piping plover and is also classified as a state threatened species.
Both piping plovers and least terns use only a shallow depression in the sand as a nest. The sand color of the eggs and young act as a camouflage protection from predators and makes them hard to see on a sunny beach. 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 see an adult bird pretending to have a broken wing or flying around you, move away from the area at once,” advised Jenny Dickson, a DEP Supervising Wildlife Biologist. “Continued disturbance may cause abandonment or death of the chicks. Historically, piping plovers and least terns have been declining due to the loss of beach habitat to residential and recreational development.”
In Connecticut, there are approximately 30 pairs of piping plovers in 10 locations and about 100 pairs of least terns.
Herons and egrets also are state-listed species, nesting on islands in Long Island Sound. In an effort to insure that these unique areas are not abandoned, the DEP has completely closed Charles Island in Milford and Duck Island in Westbrook through the nesting season. These Natural Area Preserves have also received designation as Audubon Important Bird Areas in recognition of their importance for nesting wading birds.
The DEP offers the following advice to help protect nesting shorebirds and wading birds:
- 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.
- Don’t let pets off boats onto posted islands or beaches.
- If dogs are walked on beaches, always keep them 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 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 to fly.
- Do not attempt to remove young birds from the beach or coastal areas to care for them at home.
“In most cases, when immature birds are found alone, the adults have been frightened away but remain nearby to return once the intruder leaves,” added Dickson.
It is illegal to hold wildlife for rehabilitation without 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. Please report any violations affecting wildlife to the DEP’s 24-hour, toll-free hot line: 1-800-842-HELP.