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Fourth-of-July Weekend Beachgoers Asked to “Fish, Swim, and Play from 50 Yards Away” of Bird Nesting Areas

DEEP reminds beachgoers that Charles Island in Milford and Duck Island in Westbrook are closed completely to the public through September 9, 2018

Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) is asking the public to help protect birds that nest in coastal areas by staying at least 50 yards away from places where large concentrations of birds are gathered and avoiding areas that are roped off or marked with signs designating nesting locations.
People visiting beaches are often unaware of the shorebirds that nest in the sands near where they are swimming, fishing, and recreating. As a result, nests can accidentally get destroyed or abandoned and tiny fledglings that blend into their surroundings can get trampled and killed – especially during the busy summer beach season.
“Shorebirds and wading birds need special protection throughout their April to September nesting season,” said Susan Whalen, Deputy Commissioner of the DEEP. “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 at all times and to stay away from fenced areas. Check local ordinances before bringing pets to beaches; dogs are prohibited at some beaches during the summer season.”
Whether they are incubating eggs or in feeding areas, nesting birds (particularly piping plovers, least terns, American oystercatchers, herons, and egrets) are especially vulnerable to disturbance from kites, fireworks, free-roaming cats, and unleashed dogs. Once disturbed, these birds may abandon nesting areas, leaving eggs and hatchlings to die. In addition, beachcombers, sunbathers, and boaters can inadvertently trample piping plover and least tern eggs and the small chicks if they are not vigilant. To avoid this, the DEEP has erected fencing and yellow warning signs along beaches where these birds build their shallow nests in the sand. Similarly, the DEEP has cordoned off various off-shore islands where herons and egrets congregate in nesting areas called rookeries.
In 2016, Connecticut lost one piping plover chick to an unleashed dog and one nest to trampling by individuals not respecting cordoned off areas. These losses could have been avoided. You can help save these threatened species. Share the protection tips listed below with friends and family and help us educate other beachgoers.
Beach visitors need to be aware that while cordoned off areas delineate critical nesting sites, once plover and tern chicks hatch they are mobile and can be anywhere on the beach, not only in the fenced areas. These tiny chicks are no bigger than a cotton ball colored to match beach sand; therefore, it is extremely important to be aware of your surroundings when visiting a beach where plovers and terns are known to nest.
The piping plover, a small sand-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 also is 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 difficult to see on a sunny beach. When intruders approach, young piping plovers often stand motionless while the parent tries to attract attention by pretending to have a broken wing or flying around the intruder.
“If you see an adult bird acting as though it is injured or flying around you, carefully move away from the area at once, ideally toward wet sand along the water,” advised Jenny Dickson, a DEEP Supervising Wildlife Biologist. “Continued disturbance may cause abandonment of the chicks. Historically, piping plovers and least terns have declined due to the loss of beach habitat to residential and recreational development.”
Herons and egrets also are state-listed species, nesting on islands in Long Island Sound. In an effort to insure that the birds do not abandon these unique areas, the DEEP has closed Charles Island in Milford and Duck Island in Westbrook to the public through the nesting season. The closing means there is no public access allowed including: walking on the water’s edge, docking of boats and kayaks, or dog walking on the island. These Natural Area Preserves have also received designation as Audubon Important Bird Areas in recognition of their importance for nesting wading birds.
  • Respect cordoned off areas – they are sensitive areas important to the birds.
  • Do not build campfires or bonfires on beaches where plovers and terns nest.
  • Refrain from allowing dogs or cats to roam freely on beaches during the nesting season.
  • Dogs and cats are frequent predators of piping plovers and least terns.
  • Do not let pets off boats onto posted islands or posted beaches.
  • 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.
It is illegal to hold wildlife for rehabilitation without state or federal permits. Shorebirds have a unique diet that people would find hard to duplicate, which may result in starvation of the young bird. Please report any violations affecting wildlife to the DEEP’s 24-hour, toll-free hot line: 1-800-842-HELP or 860-424-3333.
Adult piping plover and chicks
Adult piping plover and chicks
Photo credit: Kaiti Titherington, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
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