The piping plover and least tern are two of a the birds that nest and raise their chicks on our NJ beaches.
June through August is generally the critical nesting and chick rearing period for these endangered and threatened birds - and, obviously, it's the busiest time for humans on our beaches.
Some Delaware Bay beaches were closed from May 9 to June 5 this year because they are major migratory stopovers along the Atlantic flyway where shorebirds stop each spring to feed on the fat-rich eggs of the horseshoe crab before heading to the Canadian Arctic to breed.
Other Atlantic Coast beaches will be closed from April 1 to October 30 or later to protect the threatened black skimmer, as well as other beach nesting birds.
Not all beaches have special areas such as the circular predator exclosure with mesh top surrounded by an electrified wire fence that is seen in the photo above, so your cooperation is a key element in protecting the nests.
Here are some simple ways you can help when you are on these critical beaches:
Avoid nesting areas which are usually "fenced" or marked in some way with signage. Unfortunately, sometimes I think the sign actually attract people to walk over and look for the birds!
Keep pets off the beach or leashed from mid April to mid September. Plovers and terns perceive even leashed dogs as potential predators. It's not that your dog will attack the birds (though they may!) but that the parents may abandon their nest or young when you or a dog approaches. On a hot summer day, a nest that is abandoned for even a few hours can be fatal for eggs or young. Think about mama plover (as seen in the photo) sitting on the eggs NOT to keep them warm, but to keep them from hard boiling.
Avoid Frisbees, footballs, kites etc. in the the nesting areas. They lead people to accidentally disturb areas. With kites, I have read that plovers and terns may actually mistake kites for hawks and leave their nests to ward off the "intruders."
Take that trash and food scraps out with you because it attracts gulls, foxes, raccoons, and skunks which will also prey on eggs and young.
Of course, it's not all human and pet problems. Coastal storms and predators also negatively affect beach-nesting birds toll.
Beach Nesting Birds in NJ Brochure (pdf, 183kb)
Beach Nesting Bird Management and Reports
Piping Plover - July 2003 Species of the Month
Piping Plover Fact Sheet (pdf, 55kb)
Black Skimmer Fact Sheet (pdf, 63kb)
Least Tern Fact Sheet (pdf, 41kb)