Man’s Best Friend Can Be An Intruder on Georgia Beaches
When it comes to nesting shorebirds, man’s best friend can be an unwelcome intruder on Georgia’s beaches. With summer just around the corner, the state Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division encourages travelers to give birds a better chance of survival by leaving their dog at home when visiting the beach. This is especially important from April through July, the breeding season for Georgia’s native beach-nesting birds.
Residents on barrier islands can also help by keeping their cats indoors, since even well-fed cats are inclined to kill birds.
“Nesting shorebirds already face daunting natural dangers such as high spring tides and predators,” said Brad Winn, coastal program manager with Wildlife Resources’ Nongame Conservation Section. “Birds that nest right on the beach do not tolerate the added pressure from pet dogs and free-ranging cats.
While Wildlife Resources encourages leaving dogs behind when visiting the beach, dogs are actually banned on certain islands protected by Georgia Board Rule 391-4-7. Williamson Island in Chatham County and Pelican Spit in Glynn County are open to the public but closed to dogs. Three sand spit islands are closed to the public and pets year-round: the sandy spit seaward of the north end of St. Catherines Island in Liberty County, Little Egg Island Bar in the mouth of the Altamaha River in Glynn County, and the small marsh island in the mouth of the Satilla River in Camden County.
Beach-nesting birds such as the Wilson’s plover, listed as threatened in Georgia, prefer to nest above the high-tide line on wide, terraced beach flats or in the dunes. They lay eggs on the beach in shallow scrapes in the sand. After hatching, the chicks hide on the beach or in the grass. Disturbance by humans and pets can cause adult birds to abandon the nests and young chicks, exposing them to predators and excessive heat from the sun.
In addition to providing critical nesting habitat, Georgia’s beaches also serve as key wintering and stopover points for seabird and shorebird species such as the red knot, piping plover, whimbrel, black skimmer, American oystercatcher, brown pelican and royal tern. Birds from as far away as the Arctic region come through Georgia as they follow migration routes to and from South America.
“Please do not feed feral cats, keep pet cats indoors and leave your dogs at home when you head to the beach,” Winn said. “Your pets and Georgia’s wildlife will be better off as a result.”
Georgians can support conservation of shorebirds, sea turtles and other nongame wildlife by purchasing a license plate featuring a bald eagle or a hummingbird, and by donating to the Give Wildlife a Chance state income tax checkoff. Wildlife license plate sales are the primary source of funding for the Nongame Conservation Section, which receives no state money.
Sharing the beach
Tips for sharing Georgia beaches with the shorebirds that nest on them:
· Leave dogs at home. They destroy nests and chase birds.
· Hang out with the crowd: Avoid remote beach stretches where birds may be nesting.
· Walk below the last high-tide line to avoid accidentally injuring chicks or eggs.
· Learn to recognize Georgia’s coastal birds, take note of their nesting areas from April through August, and teach others to appreciate our native beach-nesting birds.