New Gulf Coast Conservation Project to Protect Beach-Nesting Birds in Five States

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Least Tern. Photo by Tom Grey.
Least Tern. Photo by Tom Grey.

(Washington, D.C., April 22, 2011) One year after the start of the massive Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, American Bird Conservancy (ABC) announced it will launch a five-state, Gulf Coast conservation effort that will identify and implement protective measures for vulnerable beach-nesting birds such as Least Terns, Black Skimmers, Sandwich Terns, and Royal Terns.

The project will bring expertise not only from ABC, but from partners throughout the Gulf region, including the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program; National Audubon, the Pascagoula River Audubon Center (and their Audubon Junior Naturalist and “Chick Shelter” programs), and the Mississippi Coast Audubon Society; and the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory. The project, which is funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, will focus on beach-nesting bird habitat in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.


“This project will reduce impacts on key beach-nesting bird colonies, many of which are currently vulnerable to accidental disturbance by members of the public, dogs, and ATVs which can cause adult birds to abandon a nest or lead to crushed eggs and injured chicks,” said Mike Parr, Vice President of ABC and one of the leaders of the project. “Nesting birds occupy a tiny portion of the region’s beaches, usually well back from the shoreline, so there won’t be a conflict with beach goers, but the areas they do use are absolutely vital to their breeding success” he added.

“All of us love the beaches of the Gulf – they are economically vital to our coastal communities – thus our project goal is not to restrict public access, but instead we hope to engage the public in helping us with beach bird recovery by sharing this beautiful shoreline during nesting season,” said Cecilia Riley, Executive Director of the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory.

“Audubon is excited to bring our volunteers, Audubon chapters, and over 100 years of experience protecting beach-nesting birds along the Gulf coast to this exciting initiative by ABC”, said Melanie Driscoll, Audubon’s Director of Bird Conservation for the Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi Flyway.

“Beaches are among the most limited and threatened of all bird habitats in the U.S. They provide only a tiny sliver of nesting opportunity for birds, and are often heavily used by humans, squeezed by development, and frequented by colonies of feral cats. Consequently, birds that require this habitat face considerable survival challenges. Much of their plight is caused by anthropogenic impacts, so it is only fitting that we take steps to fend off some of those challenges and give them a fighting chance,” Parr said.

Habitat to be targeted by the project was directly impacted by the oil spill, both from the oil itself and also as a result of the cleanup effort, which caused damage along much of the Gulf Coast through disturbance and nest destruction by cleanup crews on foot and in vehicles, and through the removal of sand from nesting areas to construct protective berms along the tideline.

Specifically, the project partners, with the help of volunteers, will implement conservation measures such as signage and fencing at critical, unprotected or insufficiently protected colony sites for beach-nesting birds, to reduce accidental nest destruction and abandonment. These direct protection measures will be supported by a public awareness campaign designed to encourage beach-goers to respect and avoid sensitive nesting areas.

Both the Least Tern and the Black Skimmer are on the U.S. WatchList, which identifies birds that need conservation attention to survive a convergence of environmental challenges, including habitat loss, invasive species, and climate change.

American Bird Conservancy (www.abcbirds.org) conserves native birds and their habitats throughout the Americas by safeguarding the rarest species, conserving and restoring habitats, and reducing threats, while building capacity in the bird conservation movement. ABC is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit membership organization that is consistently awarded a high rating by the independent group, Charity Navigator.

Ghost Nests

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