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DEEP Reminds Beach Visitors to “Fish, Swim, and Play Far Away” from Bird Nesting Areas

Charles Island in Milford, Duck Island in Westbrook, and Dr. William A. Niering Preserve in Harkness Memorial State Park are closed completely to the public through September 9, 2024

(Hartford, CT) - As beach season enters its peak, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) asks the public to help protect birds that nest in coastal areas by staying away from places where large concentrations of birds gather and areas that are roped off or marked with signs designating nesting locations. State law prohibits entering state-designated seabird and shorebird protection areas and requires pets, cyclists, and vehicles to remain at least 25 feet away.

Beach visitors often are unaware of the shorebirds that nest in shallow depressions in the sands near where they swim, fish, and recreate. Small, camouflaged eggs are easily confused for beach rocks, and tiny fledglings look like cotton fluff that blend into their surroundings. They can be inadvertently trampled and killed – especially during the busy summer beach season.

“Shorebirds such as the federally threatened piping plover and state-threatened least tern need special protection throughout their nesting season from April to September,” said DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes. “We are pleased that the legislature enacted a Seabird and Shorebird Protection Program last year to help protect critical nesting areas on public lands, and we ask visitors to coastal areas to be mindful of the delicate birdlife in the areas near where they may be recreating.”

DEEP has temporarily closed the Dr. William A. Niering Preserve embedded within Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford, Charles Island in Milford, and Duck Island in Westbrook to prevent disturbances to several state-listed nesting birds, including piping plovers, least terns, snowy and great egrets, glossy ibis, and little blue herons. The closures mean there is no public access, walking on the water’s edge, docking of boats and kayaks, or dog walking on the islands or preserve.


“When chicks leave fenced areas to feed at the water’s edge, they are especially vulnerable,” notes Michael Burger, Executive Director of Audubon Connecticut/New York. “Even leashed dogs can have a negative impact on these birds, so we encourage dog owners to avoid the beach and check out dog-friendly parks instead. Driving motorized vehicles and bikes also should be avoided. Vehicles can easily run over chicks, and young chicks can get trapped in the ruts made by tires, separating them from their parents and leaving them vulnerable to weather and predators. These precautions should be taken throughout the summer.”

“We need the public’s help to protect these rare birds,” said Jenny Dickson, DEEP Wildlife Division Director. “While our staff and amazing volunteers do their best to keep signs and nesting area fencing in place, birds move around. If an adult piping plover pretends to have a broken wing or a tern flies by your head, they are trying to distract you –perceived as a very big predator – from their nearby young. Carefully move away from the area at once, ideally toward wet sand along the water, so that continued disturbance does not cause the bird to abandon a nest or their chicks.”

You can help save these threatened species. Share the protection tips listed below with friends and family and help us educate other beach visitors.

  • Respect cordoned off areas – they are sensitive areas important to the birds. State law prohibits entering state-designated seabird and shorebird protection areas and requires cyclists and vehicles to remain at least 25 feet away. DEEP has erected fencing and yellow warning signs along beaches where these birds build shallow nests in the sand and has cordoned off offshore islands where herons and egrets congregate in nesting areas.
  • State law also requires pets to remain at least 25 feet away from state-designated seabird and shorebird protection areas and islands. Refrain from allowing dogs or cats to roam freely in areas where shorebirds congregate during the nesting season from April through September. Dogs are prohibited on State Park beaches and many municipal beaches during this time.
  • Be aware that while cordoned off areas delineate critical nesting sites, plover and tern chicks are mobile and can be anywhere on the beach. These tiny chicks are no bigger than a cotton ball and are camouflaged to match beach sand. It is extremely important to be aware of your surroundings when visiting beaches and islands.
  • Do not build campfires or bonfires, light off fireworks, or fly kites on beaches where plovers and terns nest. The noises may prompt adults to abandon nests and chicks.
  • 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 lost or too young to fly by bringing them home. It is illegal to hold wildlife for rehabilitation without state or federal permits. In most cases when immature birds are found alone, the adults who were frightened away are nearby and will return once the intruder leaves.
  • Please report any violations affecting wildlife to DEEP’s 24-hour, toll-free hot line: 1-800-842-HELP or 860-424-3333.

Adult piping plover and chicks  

Photo: Adult piping plover and chicks

Suggested caption: Fish, swim, and play far away from beach nesting areas for piping plovers and other shorebirds.

Photo credit: Kaiti Titherington, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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