Share the Shore

[b]Black Skimmer with Chick[/b][br][br][br][br]Black Skimmer with Chick

The goal of the Share the Shore project is to help people learn more about birds like least terns, common terns, piping plovers, American oystercatchers, and black skimmers that nest and rest on the beaches of New York City every spring and summer.  From April through August, thousands of birds nest on the bare sand on many of New York City beaches and inlets. These hardy little birds are threatened by predators, extreme weather conditions, and humans. When a person or dog walks through a nesting area, the adults run or fly off in fear. During the nesting season, this exposes the eggs or chicks to fatally high temperatures and drastically increases the risk of predation. In the spring and fall, thousands of other shorebirds migrate through New York City on journeys that can be as long as 9,000 miles, stopping on our beaches to rest and refuel.


Beach-nesting Birds of New York and New Jersey

Each year, from April through August, these birds travel to the beaches along the coast of New York and New Jersey to nest and raise their young. Some of them, such as terns, nest in colonies, while others, such as the plovers, nest alone. The birds lay their eggs in shallow scrapes in the sand, sometimes lined with bits of shell and debris, placed above the high tide line in open in sandy areas with little to no vegetation.

Beach-nesting birds are uniquely adapted to suit their habitat. The eggs and chicks are perfectly camouflaged to match their sandy environment. Downy chicks that look like tiny fluff balls leave their nests soon after hatching, but hang out on the beach for several weeks with their parents until they are old enough to fly and fend for themselves. During this time, their parents teach them vital skills they will need to survive on their own. They can be hard to see! Have you ever seen eggs or a young plover on the beach? They are really tricky to pick out from the sand and shells.

Populations of beach-nesting birds are declining and they need your help
Several species of beach-nesting birds have shown alarming population declines in recent years. Common terns, as their name implies, were once very abundant, but their numbers have declined nearly 80% since coast-wide waterbird surveys began in the late 1970s.

Nesting on the beach is a challenge under the best of circumstances. Weather can be harsh and storms or extreme tides can harm nests. When coastal development and beach stabilization are added in, it becomes very difficult for the birds to nest successfully.

Beach-nesting birds are extremely sensitive to human disturbance. Eggs and chicks are camouflaged to resemble the sand and can easily be stepped on or run over and crushed. The birds see humans and their pets as predators; when a human or dog wanders too close to nesting sites, the adult birds will leave the nest, exposing the eggs or chicks to extreme temperatures and predation by gulls and crows. As the coastal areas the birds rely on become more heavily populated, not only do human disturbances increase, but the amount of garbage also increases significantly. This garbage attracts animals such as gulls, foxes and raccoons that will readily prey on beach-nesting birds and their young.

People often unintentionally disturb beach-nesting birds because they are simply unaware that birds nest on wide, open and bare expanses of sand. They might not realize that walking through the nesting area can harm the eggs or chicks. In addition, in some places there are conflicts between people and beach-nesting birds where people feel the beach-nesting birds prevent them from using the beach in the way that they want to. This kind of resentment can result in people not being particularly careful around nesting birds, sometimes with devastating results. If the nest becomes exposed to the elements, it can only takes minutes for chicks or eggs to die in the heat of the summer sun.

Nesting sites are often marked with signs stating the presence of nesting terns, plovers, or colonial waterbirds. Biologists put string fencing around breeding habitat in order to direct vehicle and foot traffic around nesting areas.  Staff members from a number of different agencies are responsible for patrolling these nesting sites to ensure their safety and success.

With a little help, beach-nesting birds can survive and coexist with people! Here’s how you can help these birds have a successful nesting season. 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 or near dunes
  • Adults engaged in courtship, 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.

Here are some other tips:

  • Stay out of areas that have been roped off for nesting birds. Some nesting and feeding sites are posted during the breeding season.
  • Learn to recognize potential nesting habitat. Be aware that not all nesting sites are posted. Since birds can nest on the upper portion of inlets and remote/undeveloped beaches, avoiding these areas during the nesting season will allow birds to tend to their eggs and chicks without disturbance. You will know you are too close to a nest or chick if terns begin to dive bomb you in defense of their nests or if birds call loudly or feign a broken wing nearby. Walk below the high tide line and quickly leave the area.
  • Keep your dog on a leash. Dogs may chase and harass young and adult birds and can destroy nests and kill chicks if not kept on a leash. Even if they don’t chase birds, their presence disturbs them.
  • Avoid flying kites, throwing balls, and exploding fireworks near nesting and feeding areas.  These activities can cause birds to leave their nest or chicks unprotected.
  • Do not feed gulls on the beach. This seemingly harmless activity can attract gulls to nesting areas where they prey on the eggs and chicks of beach-nesting birds.
  • Take your trash with you when you leave the beach. Garbage, including bait and scraps from cleaned fish, attracts predators to nesting areas. Fishing line that is left on the beach can entangle and kills birds.
  • Teach others to appreciate beach-nesting birds. They are a vital part of the ecosystem and a sign of a wild and healthy beach


Migrating Shorebirds of New York and New Jersey

In addition to the beach-nesting birds, many other shorebirds migrate through New York and New Jersey in the spring and fall. Our activities on the beaches are also felt by these birds, who make critical stops in New York and New Jersey to rest and refuel. These birds include red knot, dunlin, semipalmated sandpiper, sanderling, ruddy turnstone.

Many of the beaches of New York and New Jersey are essential stopping points for migrating shorebirds. When they stop, they stock up on energy by feasting on the abundance prey such as horseshoe crab eggs and other invertebrates. Red knots in particular feed on horseshoe crab eggs which are rich enough in calories and energy to sustain them on their long journeys–as far as 9,300 miles! However, since 1998 humans have been harvesting horseshoe crabs intensely and their numbers have been declining. This means that not enough horseshoe crab eggs are laid to sustain all the migrating shorebirds and the birds are also in decline. In fact, the drop in migratory shorebird numbers has been so steep in the last ten years that the rufa subspecies of red knot was listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2015.
Since these birds experience many of the same threats as nesting birds, taking the actions above to reduce disturbance to them will allow them to continue on their journey.


Q. How can I help spread the word about protecting beach-nesting birds?
A. Teach other people how they can protect beach-nesting birds. If you see someone on the beach disrespecting the nesting birds, speak up! Many people don’t realize their actions are harmful to wildlife.

Q: Where can I go to see beach-nesting birds?
A:  There are a number of great places to go to see beach-nesting birds in New York City:

Other good places to go to see beach-nesting birds are listed below. These areas are all listed as Important Bird Areas and you can find beach-nesting birds here during the summer months.

  • Sandy Hook, Gateway National Recreation Area, Monmouth County, NJ: In the summer, piping plovers and common and least terns nest on Plum Island. They are visible from the oceanfront at the North Beach Observation Deck.
  • Montauk Point, Suffolk County, NY: While the beaches at Montauk point are crowded with vacationers in the summer months, piping plovers and least and common terns are still nesting there. A spotting scope is recommended.
  • Edith G. Read Wildlife Sanctuary at Playland Park, Rye, Westchester County, NY: This is a good spot in the summer months to see, with the aid of a spotting scope, common terns, American oystercatchers, and black skimmers feeding along the shore.
  • Captree Island Vicinity, Babylon and Islip, Suffolk County, NY
  • Fire Island (East of Lighthouse), Brookhaven and Islip, Suffolk County, NY
  • West Hempstead Bay/Jones Beach West, Nassau and Suffolk Counties, NY
  • Cape May National Wildlife Refuge: Two Mile Beach Unit, Cape May County, NJ
  • Barnegat Bay, Ocean County, NJ

Although we encourage you to go visit these beautiful birds and their babies, please remember to keep your distance from nests and birds. Use a spotting scope or binoculars to get a better view and try to avoid disturbing the birds as much as possible.

Q: What do I do if I find an injured beach-nesting bird?
A:  First, make sure that it is actually injured. We are accustomed to thinking that if a bird is sitting on the ground, it must be injured, sick, or abandoned, but this is not the case with these birds, since they build their nests on the ground. In addition, plovers are known for their “broken-wing displays,” where they pretend to be injured in order to draw attention away from their nests and young. If you are too close to the nests of these birds, you may see this behavior, but remember that the bird isn’t actually injured (no matter how good its acting is).

In addition, the adult birds can give their young far better care than we can. If you see a chick on the beach, please be completely certain that it is severely injured before taking it off the beach.  If no obvious injuries are visible, such as a broken wing or leg, leave it where it is. Baby birds do not do well in captivity. If you decide the bird is actually injured and requires your help, carefully and gently place it into a cardboard box with a lid or towel over the top, and place the box in a cool, safe place. You can also use a pet carrier if you have one. Try to keep it out of direct sunlight or high temperatures. Then, contact a local wildlife rehabilitator, listed here for New York and New Jersey.
New York City and Long Island Wildlife Rehabilitators

Q: What do I do if I see someone harassing beach-nesting birds or their nesting site?
A:  Oftentimes, people will bother beach-nesting birds simply because they are not aware of the birds’ presence, or don’t know that their actions are causing a disturbance.  In these cases, you may want to try to politely dissuade the individual from engaging in that behavior.  If that doesn’t work, or if somebody is seriously or maliciously bothering the beach-nesting birds, such as purposefully destroying nests or eggs or chasing birds away, contact the authorities in charge of that stretch of beach. Find out which organization is in charge, since there are several different numbers you can call to report beach-nesting bird disturbances or violations. Be aware that the authorities may ask for detailed descriptions of the offending individual and their violation, but do not put yourself at personal risk to gather these details.

New York City Department of Parks and Recreation: Parks Enforcement Patrol:
Call NYC police at 911
Submit a complaint online
National Park Service: Parks Police
Phone: 718-338-3988
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation: Environmental Conservation Police Officers 
File a complaint online

Thank you for sharing the beach with these beautiful birds!

“Share the Shore” is an outreach initiative that strives to reduce human disturbances to beach-nesting and migratory shorebirds. Piloted by Audubon North Carolina, this program was designed to change beach-goers’ behavior through education and social marketing. Audubon New York, New Jersey Audubon, and New York City Audubon worked together to launch the program in New Jersey and New York in 2013. Since then, under the guidance of Audubon New York, the program has expanded to include new partners, including the Four Harbors, Huntington Oyster Bay, North Shore, and South Shore Audubon societies, Group for the East End, and others. Working together allows us to reach a broad audience and make the program as impactful as possible.

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