A day at the beach is a vacation for most people. Residents and tourists alike travel to North Carolina beaches throughout the year to swim, fish, or just stroll down the strand. Many beachgoers also enjoy watching the many unique species of waterbirds that feed and nest on our beaches.
Least Terns, Common Terns, Gull-billed Terns, Black Skimmers, Piping Plovers, Wilson’s Plovers, Willets, and Oystercatchers are some of the many colorful waterbirds that nest on North Carolina beaches. Many of these species nest on open, bare sand, often near inlets and capes. Their nests are shallow unprotected depressions that can be as small as a teacup. Casual observers can easily overlook the eggs because they are perfectly camouflaged to blend in with sand and bits of shell.
As the number of people along North Carolina's coast has increased dramatically, so have the threats to birds that nest along the coast. Entire colonies can be wiped out by unintentional human disturbance, contributing significantly to the decline in the number of terns, skimmers, and plovers. People often disturb nesting areas because they are simply unaware that birds are nesting nearby on the wide, open and bare expanses of sand. Likewise, they might be unaware that walking through the nesting area can harm the eggs or chicks. It only takes minutes for chicks or eggs to die under the heat of the summer sun.
Nesting sites are often marked with signs stating the presence of nesting terns, plovers, or colonial waterbirds. The signs warn beachgoers to not enter sensitive nesting areas under penalty of state and federal law. Most often, rope or line is strung between the posts, which usually encircle the nesting site, further emphasizing that trespassing is prohibited and directing vehicle and foot traffic around the nesting site. And lastly, Audubon Wardens, Park Rangers and Wildlife Enforcement Officers patrol these nesting sites.
Some nesting areas may not be posted, but there are several clues that indicate the presence of nesting birds.
If you're at the beach between April and September, be on the lookout for the following behaviors, which can indicate that birds are nesting nearby:
- Adult birds standing or sitting on the beach strand or near dunes
- Adults engaged in courtship displays, broken wing, or injury displays
- Adult birds dive-bombing people or pets
- Adult terns or skimmers carrying fish
- Nests or nest scrapes
- Eggs or chicks
If you see any of the above, please move away immediately to prevent the loss of nests, eggs, and chicks or the abandonment of the nesting site.
Thank you for helping protect these beautiful birds!
- Birds & Wildlife