My new noel BEACH HOUSE FOR RENT wouldn’t be possible without the brilliant, generous professionals who enthusiastically shared their knowledge with me. One of those people who deserves great thanks is Felicia Sanders of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, for the education she gave me on shorebirds, seabirds, and wading birds. Because of her deep passion for these beautiful creatures who rely on our coastline for survival, I’ve invited her to share her knowledge and wisdom (and great photos) on my blog today with hopes that this knowledge will help us all be better stewards every time we visit the beach.
BIRDS LIVE ON THE BEACH
By: Felicia Sanders, SCDNR
For many people the beach is an expanse of sand that meets the ocean. I grew up thinking this stretch of coastline is a splendid place for relaxation, recreation and vacation. A place to put a beach chair and throw a Frisbee. Yet I now know, the shore is also a place where birds and other wildlife live. It is often their only home.
In June and July South Carolina’s shorebirds and seabirds have young chicks. In the spring thousands of brown pelicans, terns, black skimmers, gulls, oystercatchers and plovers start nesting on sandy islands and beaches along our coast. Their nests are simple scrapes in the sand or in the case of a pelican, a grass and stick nest on the beach. In April and May, these birds begin courtship behaviors on the beach of intricate dances that involve vocalizations, wing posturing, and bill touching. Male terns strut with a fish to lure a female to become his mate. Male pelicans advertise their territory by waving a stick that the female can use to build her nest. These birds mate on the beach and male terns continue to feed their partner small fish to strength the pair’s family bond. Both the male and female share in duties of incubating eggs in the nest and raising chicks. Parents need time to rest! While one parent is tending the young the other parent needs downtime and will relax at the water’s edge, often on a neighboring beach. This is precious time to re-energize for the next shift.
Chicks grow up on the beach. The sand is hot in the dunes where eggs are laid so parents bring chicks down to the water to cool off. The beach is safer than the dunes where predators can hide behind grasses and bushes. Parents feed their chicks on the beach and the young mature.
The young birds start spreading their wings and eventual take short flights off the beach. Hopefully they will be strong and survive to adulthood to have their own young on the same beach.
Unfortunately beach-nesting birds are declining partly due to human activities on the beach and the fate of the coastal birds is entirely up to us. When you see birds on the beach, don’t get too close to make them fly or run. Nesting birds that are disturbed may not be able to protect and care for their eggs and chicks. Migrating birds may be too tired to finish long flights that require energy reserves. Wintering birds that are constantly disturbed may not survive the cold and wind. Instead take time to observe them from a distance. Learn to identify the types of birds on the beach and notice their behaviors. Are they feeding, resting or trying to distract us away from their chicks? If you watch birds they become captivating parts of the community of creatures that live on the beach. Like the seasons, changes in bird’s plumage colors mark the end of breeding season and beginning of autumn. Knowledge of coastal bird’s lives will add richness and enjoyment to our experience at the beach!