Share the Beach: Protecting At-Risk Shorebirds

By Bianca Alexander

It’s still summer on the coast, but fall migration for shorebirds is well underway. Believe it or not, hundreds of thousands of shorebirds are migrating along the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf coasts in this moment.  They may have nested as far away as the Arctic tundra and may be headed for wintering areas in South America.  These long migrations are challenging, and shorebirds need places to stop, rest and refuel to survive this arduous journey.  It is a critical time of the year for coastal birds, and there's no better time to help protect our coasts and the birds that depend on them every year.

 “Holiday weekends are often a huge hurdle for birds because of the number of people and activities it attracts around sensitive resting and feeding sites,” says Walker Golder, deputy state director of Audubon North Carolina. “Notice the Sanderling, that small, grayish bird found on most beaches, as it feverishly probes the wet sand in search of food. It’s only about the size of a cell phone and weighs just two to three ounces, yet it may have just arrived from the Arctic and is on its way to South America. It is probing the sand hard and fast as if its life depends on it, because its life does depend on its ability to refuel for the next leg of migration that may be 1,000 miles or more. ”


Coastal Birds Need Beaches Too

  • Shorebirds can be found on beaches throughout the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf coasts, often on the same sandy beaches that are popular with visitors over common beach holidays.
  • Shorebirds resting on the beach need the time to rest and digest so they will be in good condition to make the next leg of migration.
  • The lives of shorebirds depend on their ability to find the right habitat with food, rest and pack on enough fat to survive the next leg of their fall journey.
  • Unfortunately, more than half of all shorebird species in North America are suffering from population declines and all are at risk.
  • Some of the most endangered shorebirds to keep an eye out for along the continental U.S. today include the Piping Plover (federally threatened), Western Snowy Plover (federally threatened) and Red Knot (proposed as a federally threatened species), California Least Tern (federally threatened), and the Black Oystercatcher (federally threatened, is more frequently found on rocky than sandy beaches).

A Red Knot Couple

The greatest threats to migrating shorebirds are human disturbance and habitat loss. To help the Sanderling and other at-risk birds throughout the year, be a steward of the shore and its wildlife by following these easy tips from the National Audobon Society:

  • Leave no trace. Be sure to take all garbage and items with you when you leave the beach.
  • Dispose of fishing line properly. Improperly discarded fishing line can injure and kill a variety of animals, including birds.
  • Keep dogs on leashes. Playful pooches can wreak havoc on shore-nesting birds in a matter of seconds. Protect birds by keeping your pets properly leashed.
  • Respect protected areas and signs. Give birds the space they need and stay out of protected areas.
  • Share the beach. Birds love the beach as much as we do, so be a good neighbor and share it with our feathered friends.

Black Oystercatcher

Not Just for the Birds

Protecting shorebirds isn’t just good for migrating bird species, it’s good for humans too. According to the National Survey on Recreation and the Environment, nearly 85 million people in the United States observe or photograph birds, up from 21 million in 1983. Not only do birds add the quality of life and aesthetics along the coast, their presence supports local economies through tourism. Forty-seven million people have traveled at least a mile from home to observe wild birds or enjoy birdwatching from home, spending $107 billion on trips, equipment, wild bird food and related expenditures.

Want to Do More? Additional Resources For Your Neck of the Woods

About Audubon: The National Audubon Society saves birds and their habitats throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education and on-the-ground conservation. Audubon's state programs, nature centers, chapters and partners have an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire and unite diverse communities in conservation action. Since 1905, Audubon's vision has been a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Audubon is a nonprofit conservation organization. Learn more at and @audubonsociety.


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