A Day at the Beach
What could be more summer-like than a day at the beach? Who doesn’t love having fun in the water and on the sand? And the beach is a popular spot for wildlife as well. Terrapins cross busy streets to get from the marsh to
the sandy shores to lay their eggs, then return home across those same busy streets; horseshoe crabs lay their thousands of eggs along the shoreline, and eating the eggs gives long-distance flying shorebirds the energy they need to complete their migration; Osprey and terns ply the waters close to shore, diving for food; beach nesting birds lay their perfectly camouflaged eggs in the sand
and raise their equally camouflaged young there. On beaches, there’s a lot going on! And it might not be a surprise to know that birds that use our shores face some big challenges.
Next time you’re at the beach, take a careful look around. All beach nesting birds, like the oystercatchers below, lay eggs directly on a little shallow in the sand. For their protection from predators, these eggs all blend in perfectly with the sand, as do the teeny chicks who when hatched, are extremely difficult to see. Many areas where birds nest on the beach are roped off so they can enjoy a zone away from the rest of us enjoying the same real estate.
Want to help beach-nesting birds? Here are some things you can do:
If you see a nesting area that has been roped off, don’t enter it for any reason. The eggs or chicks, if they have hatched, could be anywhere. Plus, the adults have a difficult time herding their precocial chicks, and see everything that moves as a potential predator — including pets. Even if your dog is on a lead and outside the nesting area, his presence can distract the adults who may
feel they need to leave their chicks to defend against a passing dog. This might lead to an opening a gull or crow has been waiting for to grab an unattended chick. Plus some birds, like Piping Plovers, need to safely escort their chicks to the water’s edge multiple times each day to feed them. A busy beach is a challenging place for a beach nesting bird! If you are respectful, they will stand a much better chance of successfully raising their young.
The beach is a great place to spend hot summer days, and its also a terrific place to see wildlife. Enjoy the beach and be respectful of the wild birds and other animals with which we share it. This is the best way to ensure they will be there in the future for all of us to continue to enjoy.
Posts Tagged ‘endangered species’
Sharing the Beach With Nesting Shorebirds
Who can resist the beach in the summer? It’s a fun place to enjoy the surf and sun and can also be a great
place to see birds. Many species of birds depend on beaches for survival, and lots of shorebirds have traveled many thousands of miles to get to the beach where they are nesting. Some nest in huge colonies like Black skimmers or Least terns, others prefer to have their own real estate, like Piping plovers. And who can resist these adorable chicks?
Beach nests are scrapes in the sand with seriously camouflaged eggs that are difficult to see until you are on top of them. The parents work in pairs to defend their chicks from predators and any thing — (humans and
dogs on or off leash included), that is seen by them as a potential predator distracts them from feeding and protecting their chicks, causes stress and creates opportunities for real predators (like a gull, crow, hawk or fox) to make a split second grab of the babies.
If a bird is swooping down on you, barely missing your head, you are dangerously close to eggs or chicks. Make a beeline away from the aerial bomber, checking out the sand to make sure you are not walking on eggs or chicks. Least and common terns are notorious for this behavior and they are very accurate poopers, so be forewarned…this fishy stuff doesn’t come out of your clothes or hair very easily.
Ever see this broken wing display? The bird goes to a lot of trouble to make you think she is injured and is an easier target for you than the chick which is assuredly extremely close to you at the moment.
You may never see that chick, but this kind of extreme behavior is often reserved for the predator they couldn’t distract any other way. Look at the sand to see if you can see the chick and walk away from it immediately. If you can’t see the chick, make sure your exit path doesn’t include stepping on eggs or chicks.
Our beaches are great places to have fun in the summer. Enjoy them, but be respectful of the birds sharing the sand and surf with you. Many of these shorebirds are in decline and some are endangered. By taking the time to be careful of the birds, who knows what you will see? Maybe a glimpse of an adorable shorebird chick – something you might not have expected!
UPDATE on Moonbird and Ospreys
Great news on a few birds we have been following!
That superhero Red knot, B-95 has been seen in NJ and Delaware gorging on horseshoe crab eggs again this season. This marks over 20 years that scientists know he has been making an annual 18,600 mile journey roundtrip. Against all odds, B-95, aka Moonbird, continues to amaze and please his fans. Welcome back, Moonbird – so happy to know you are here!
And, an update on our Ospreys. Due to hurricane Sandy, many Osprey platforms were destroyed or leaning. Wildtones sponsored the building of a platform in NJ to replace one which was leaning a lot from the hurricane. The new platform was built but there wasn’t time to get the old platform down before nest building started! The attraction to the old nest was too great this year, and with a little building on the new platform and some tidying on the old, the ospreys are happily nesting at an angle this year!
Defending the Kids
Piping plovers are endangered and they like the same beaches we humans do…and at the same time.
This can cause some tense and dangerous moments for both the parents and young chicks. I was recently at the beach watching a Piping plover family. The parents had to constantly maneuver their nearly uncontrollable day-old chick away from crabs, gulls, beach goers and dogs. After losing another chick the day it was born, they were alert and aggressive to any intruder. Whenever a person or anything they considered a danger to their chick came near, the parents would call to the chick to get him out of harms way.
When that didn’t work, they would try a variety of other
guises designed to lure the danger away. Often they would pretend to have a broken wing –
which is frequently successful, even when dealing with humans. But keeping crows, seagulls, raccoons, foxes, cats, ghost crabs, dogs and humans away is a full time job, and they put a remarkable amount of energy into corralling chicks, distracting and attacking intruders. Given the variety of dangers facing their chicks, the parents have to be adaptable and move quickly. Being a small nesting shorebird is not for the feint of heart.
Apart from what they did to protect their remaining chick, they also taught their chick a very important skill – hiding. Piping plovers- especially the chicks – are the exact color of the sand. And when a chick quickly drops into a shallow in the sand to hide, it is nearly imperceptible. Its not a solution when there is a running dog or human traffic, but for overhead predators, it’s pretty effective. Here’s a photo of a chick hiding in a shallow in the sand. Can you find the Piping plover chick in this picture?
Hint:(Look for an eye, top of the head and part of the beak)
Let us know on our Facebook page if you found the piping plover chick!
Birds that migrate long distances need your help!
There are fun and easy things anyone can do and they can make a big difference to wildlife. If you like taking a stand for the right thing – animals like the Red knot and horseshoe crabs need you to stand up for them to keep them from disappearing. Take Mike Hudson in Maryland, for example. At 14 years old, he and some friends started a letter writing campaign to the US Fish and Wildlife Service asking the Red knot be listed as an endangered species. You can visit his website Friends of the Red Knot to see what he is doing. For his effort he has gained a great reputation and he now assists researchers gathering data on these birds – something he really loves to do. Are you good at social media, maybe Facebook or Twitter? Start your own social media campaign and get your friends involved to contact lawmakers and let them know how important it is to not harvest horseshoe crabs, and to get Red knots federally listed as endangered. Birds like the Red knot need your help and it’s fun to do!
If you live near any grassland or prairie area – they used to exist all across the US – take a look to see if there is anyone restoring the original prairie, like Citizens for Conservation in Illinois. There is a lot of this going on and prairie restoration can be a lot of fun to do! You work with a group of people to get rid of the bad invasive plants and put in the native ones, plant seeds and sometimes create ponds and marshes. Grasslands can start recovering fairly quickly and the work you do helps birds and animals in a very big way by giving them more areas to nest and use as stopovers during migration. It’s a great family project that will leave you incredibly satisfied at the end of the day.
Please let us know what you are doing to help migrating birds. We would love to let our readers know!
Another 1000 African Gray parrots were discovered earlier this month in crates about to leave the airport in Cameroon for transport to Bahrain and the Middle East. This is the second illegal shipment of these parrots intercepted in two months in Cameroon. The total number of birds discovered numbers over 1500 between the shipments – all sent to Limbe Wildlife Refuge for rehabilitation. The birds who are alive and who are able to be released will be. Many have already died from being crushed or glued or just general rough handling and fear during the “shipment.”
These are all wild caught birds of the endangered species variety. They are CITES II which means trade in them is restricted because their populations in the wild are so low that they cannot sustain any trade. I spoke with Dr. Irene Pepperberg of The Alex Foundation who has done the seminal work on the intelligence of African Grey Parrots. She told me that when there is this high a number of birds being poached, it means there are a number of large flocks from which the adults are taken. Stripped of their teaching population, the younger birds remaining in these substantially decreased flocks are left trying to learn to survive in the wild on their own and it makes these diminished flocks extremely vulnerable. If any of the birds that eventually are released are young, they have an equally challenging situation in that they also need adult birds who will teach them how to survive. But in this case it’s even trickier because these unrelated birds being released will need to know to search out and find adults who are willing to teach them. Add to this the fact that, according to research done by Dr. Pepperberg over a 30 year project, African Grey parrots have an emotional equivalent of a 2-3 human child and the intelligence of a 5-6 year old human child, and seeing these birds tightly crammed in baskets and crates is even more heartbreaking.
Limbe is charged with caring for over 1000 parrots right now – a financial and time burden they never expected. The best way to stop these kinds of killing shipments is to end the market for wild caught birds. It can start with each of us. Triple check your desire for an exotic bird before buying one. Make sure you are prepared for the commitment. It can be up to 80 years of commitment and you can expect your life to change dramatically to accommodate the bird – you cannot reasonably expect the bird to accommodate your lifestyle and still have any kind of satisfying life for either of you. If you still must get one, then be absolutely certain the bird was domestically bred and raised and there are several generations of domestically bred and raised birds in his or her lineage. Wild birds make terrible pets anyway. Those domestically bred and hand raised are more accustomed to human interaction and there is generally less aggression than with a wild caught bird. We can avoid unwittingly aiding and abetting the poaching of exotic birds by shrinking the market for them. The birds are much happier when they remain in the wild. And, it would be a travesty for a regal bird like the African Grey to disappear because of his ornamental value in the pet trade.
Photo credits: Limbe Wildlife Refuge
According to a recent survey from the RSPB published on the BBC website, some of the more rare species of birds in the UK are seeing increases in their populations while some of the more common birds are seeing declines. The increased numbers of rarer species (including the Osprey and Avocet that are seen in North America as well) is great news, but the decline in more common birds (like the Swift and Starling – which is an endemic bird to the UK and not considered a pest) is a continuing saga. Much of the trouble for these common birds appears to lie in farming techniques. And, the UK has responded by trying some experimental measures in the Natural England project – giving farmers money in return for keeping some areas fallow for nesting birds and keeping some areas lively with plants that attract insects. Not surprisingly, this appears to be creating a beneficial area for birds and other wildlife like hares. And, it has captured the interest of many farmers who profess to like watching the hares boxing and the lapwings nesting sometimes a bit more than doing the plowing or harvesting. Some great ideas are also pretty simple and we can only hope that if this does work in the UK that this example of a simple and effective means to help wildlife can find its way to implementation in other countries.
Photo credit: BBC
To most people, Caribou may not be the sexiest of animals, and in fact, there are probably not many people who think much about Caribou at all. But since they live in fairly undisturbed areas, it came as a bit of a surprise to hear that their numbers have declined 60% in 30 years. The Christian Science Monitor has an interesting story about this issue which was discovered by scientists at the University of Alberta, Edmonton. It is a cause for concern as these are animals who have been considered irrevocably numerous and do not cross many paths with humans. Sadly, this sounds like other wildlife populations we also thought were too numerous to impact – passenger pigeons, buffalo, horseshoe crabs, bats. There seems to be a human blindness to the possibility of human impact when there are so many of a species it seems overwhelming to us. But, this latest discovery about Caribou is surprising if only because these are animals most of us would think are too far off the grid to be affected. It seems living off the grid is no protection no matter how many of you there are.
Photo Credit: Jason Witherspoon/Design Pics/Newscom
It is true that some species have a different life time frame than humans. Most are much shorter – some, like macaws and elephants – pretty much mirror ours at around 80 years. But many tortoise and turtles along with horseshoe crabs and a variety of other animals make us look like mortal pikers. George, the well-known endangered Galapagos tortoise, after years of sexual indifference, appears to be coming into his sexual prime at 90. Conservationists are delighted he has mated and they have found eggs in his pen, as with only 20,000 left of his species, George is under pressure to continue the line. Well done, George – you are an inspiration to all of us. Let’s hope your legacy keeps going!
Photo from Reuters