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State to beachgoers: Hurricane Matthew damaged habitat, give nesting birds wide berth

David Pendered
tybee island chart, nesting area

By David Pendered

Georgia environmental officials are asking beachgoers along Georgia’s coast to give nesting birds plenty of clearance because Hurricane Matthew damaged offshore sandbars that formerly served as nesting areas.

The cautionary advice is the latest reminder of the hurricane’s impact. On April 13, FEMA reported the federal government has provided Georgians with $78.2 million in grants, settlements and low-interest disaster loans.

According to a statement from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources:

  • “When Matthew hit in October, the storm destroyed or diminished most of Georgia’s offshore bars that serve as nest sites largely free of predators and human disturbance. These shoals of sand, such as St. Catherines and Ogeechee bars, ‘have been drivers in productivity for shorebird and seabirds,’ said Tim Keyes, a state wildlife biologist.”

In response to the changes offshore, state officials have moved nesting stakes higher on beaches where birds and beachgoers mix. This is the case on Jekyll, St. Simons and Little Tybee islands.


tybee island chart, nesting area

This chart of Tybee Island area illustrates the paucity of bird nesting areas south of the Savannah River. Green areas are marshy; beige areas are sandy; water feet is marked in feet. Credit: NOAA chart 11512, David Pendered

The higher stake lines are intended to increase the buffer between humans and birds, especially those that nest above the high-tide line on wide beach flats or on the edges of dunes. This includes species including American oystercatchers, black skimmers and least terns, according to the DNR statement.

The increased buffer intends to help birds that lay eggs in shallow scrapes in the sand from April through July. After birds hatch, they hide on the beach or in dune grass until they learn to fly.

This is the reason for concern over pets on the beach. Owners of dogs that chase federally protect species can be fined, according to the statement.

Dogs are banned by regulation or law from nesting areas on the beachfront of Little Tybee Island, Pelican Spit, Satilla Marsh Island and Little Egg Island bar. Little Egg bar, Pelican Spit and Brunswick Dredge Island, are so ecologically sensitive they are closed to human visitors.

Birds will defend themselves. Adults will call loudly and display distractive behaviors, such as dragging a wing as if it’s wounded. Others will dive-bomb humans and animals.

Georgia’s DNR asks beachgoers to help nesting birds by the respecting the following guidelines:

Black skimmers are among the species that nest along Georgia's coast from April through July. The state is asking beachgoers to give them wide berth. Credit: birdz-world.blogspot.com

Black skimmers are among the species that nest along Georgia’s coast from April through July. The state is asking beachgoers to give them wide berth. Credit: Alamy Stock Photos / birdz-world.blogspot.com”

  • “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.
  • “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’s 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 ranger hotline, (800) 241-4113 or [email protected].
  • “Leave dogs at home or keep them on a leash when visiting a beach where they’re allowed. (Owners who let their dogs chase shorebirds can be fined for harassing protected species.)
  • “Keep house cats indoors, and don’t feed feral cats. Cats often prey on birds.”



David Pendered
David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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