Georgia beaches are not only vacation destinations, they are prime spots for nesting and migrating shorebirds and seabirds.
American oystercatchers, Wilson’s plovers and least terns nest on East Beach on St. Simons Island. Among other species, black skimmers, royal terns and gull-billed terns also flock to Georgia beaches, offshore sandbars and dredge spoil islands.
For these nesting birds, human disturbance is a significant threat. Shorebirds and seabirds also face risks from native predators and high spring tides. Pets can be destructive, too, killing or scaring birds.
Visitors to St. Simons Island’s beaches can help beach-nesting birds and migrating species by:
- Avoiding posted sites. (Eggs and chicks are camouflaged and easy to overlook or even step on.)
- Walking below the high-tide line.
- Watching beach birds only from a distance.
- Backing away from any nesting birds they accidentally disturb.
- Paying attention to the behavior of birds will alert you are too close to a nest or chick.
Pets are excluded by regulation or law at sites including Tybee Island, Little Tybee Island, Satilla Marsh Island, Jekyll’s south end and St. Catherines and Little Egg Island bars. (The bars and Brunswick Dredge Island, another key nesting site, are also closed to people.)
Beach-nesting birds nest above the high-tide line on wide, terraced beach flats or on the edge of dunes. In Georgia, the birds lay eggs in shallow scrapes in the sand from mid-March through July. After hatching, chicks hide on the beach or in the grass.
The effort is worth it.
Already this year, pairs of American oystercatchers and Wilson’s plovers have been documented on St. Simons’ East Beach and a bar in Gould’s Inlet, at the north end of the popular beach. Signs help protect the areas. DNR has also documented brown pelicans nesting very early, and already on eggs, on Brunswick Dredge Island, also dubbed Bird Island, in Brunswick Harbor.
How you can help birds when visiting a Georgia beach:
- Stay in high-traffic areas; birds are less likely to nest where crowds gather.
- Walk below the high-tide line or on wet-sand beaches.
- Avoid posted nesting sites. (Eggs and chicks are easy to overlook or even step on.)
- Observe beach birds only from a distance. Back away from any nesting birds you accidentally disturb. (Adults frightened from a nest will often call loudly and exhibit distraction displays, such as dragging one wing as if it is broken.)
- If you see people disturbing nesting birds, respectfully tell them how their actions can affect the birds. If the people continue, contact DNR’s Law Enforcement hotline, (800) 241-4113 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Leave dogs at home or keep them on a leash when visiting a beach where permitted.
- Keep house cats indoors, and don’t feed feral cats. Cats often prey on birds.
- Help spread the word through family, friends and social media about the importance of giving beach-nesting birds the space they need to thrive.
Get beach-nesting bird tips and video at georgiawildlife.com (click “Share the Beach”).