We’re already deep into summer activities, especially in this Texas heat! Many of us have flocked to nearby beaches to escape the heat and enjoy the season. With the 4th of July (and another four months of Texas summer) ahead of us, though, we wanted to take an opportunity to remind you to be a bird-friendly beachgoer! Whether you’re heading down to Galveston for the day or to a tropical island for a week-long vacation, follow these guidelines to ensure you’re being a good steward to our beach-loving birds!
“Fish, Swim, and Play from 50 Yards Away”
Our friends at American Bird Conservancy have coined this term and we think it is an excellent piece of advice for all of our bird-friendly beachgoers! Along the Gulf Coast, Least Terns and Black Skimmers can be found nesting in colonies, while Wilson’s and Snowy Plovers are nesting in single-pairs on beaches. The best thing a beachgoer can do to help these birds is to give them plenty of space – a minimum of 50 yards is ideal! Beachgoers should be especially respectful of areas that are roped off for nesting birds. These four species of beach-nesting birds have had a particularly tough time as a result of development along coasts, disturbance from beachgoers ad pets, and driving on beaches. It is our responsibility to recreate respectfully when near these birds’ nesting habitat.
Watch Your Step
Always be sure to watch your step while walking on the sand. Beach-nesting bird nests have excellent camouflage meant to dupe the most skilled predator – their eggs and chicks are not easy to see. If you want to be sure that you aren’t going to step on a nest, avoid marked areas and choose to walk on wet sand whenever possible. Birds tend to nest above the high tide line in order to protect their eggs from the elements. By walking on wet sand, you can confidently enjoy your bird-friendly beach day!
Don’t Feed Birds and Wildlife
Speaking of skilled predators on the hunt for tiny tern chicks – don’t feed them! Gulls, grackles, raccoons, and other species are regular visitors to beaches, thanks to the plethora of food availability. These species prey on the eggs and chicks of our region’s beach-nesting birds. You may think that by feeding gulls, you’ll keep them from eating plover chicks, but the opposite actually occurs. By feeding these birds during your beach day, you’re actually attracting more of them to the area, putting our tiny beach-nesting babies at much higher risk.
Keep Your Pup on a Leash
Most beaches require that dogs be kept on a leash and this is for good reason! Off-leash dogs don’t understand signs, so they won’t avoid the areas of the beach a human with reading comprehension would know to avoid. Even a friendly dog can cause stress and/or nest-abandonment in our beach-nesting birds. And if a beach has “no-dog” rules in place, please obey them! Instead, take your pup to a designated dog-beach or buy them a backyard kiddy pool!
Pick up trash
Nothing ruins a beach day like a bunch of trash, especially for the birds and other wildlife that rely on that beach for survival. Why not leave the beach better than you found it? If you’re reading this blog post, chances are you’re already NOT littering. Bring a bag along on your next beach day to help pick up trash while enjoying the surf and sand – the birds, turtles, and fish will thank you! And if the beach you’re visiting doesn’t have covered or wildlife-proof trashcans, pack out everything you bring in and clean up!
Dispose of your fishing line
Fishing line is one of the most dangerous forms of pollution for birds and other wildlife. Countless pelicans, gulls, and shorebirds get tangles up in discarded fishing line all over the place, especially in our region. Our partners at the Houston Zoo and Texas Master Naturalists have been working hard to install fishing line recycling containers at popular fishing spots across the Bay, but it is up to you to make sure that line makes it into those containers!
Being a bird-friendly beachgoer is all about enjoying your day while respecting the fact that the beach you like to visit is important habitat for birds and other wildlife. If we all acted like we were a guest in someone’s home while visiting the beach, we could leave these areas a safer and happier place for people and wildlife alike!
By Anna Vallery, Conservation Specialist, Houston Audubon
Being a bird-friendly beachgoer is all about enjoying your day while respecting the fact that the beach you like to visit is important habitat for birds and other wildlife. @AnnaValBirdGalTweet