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** Archived Article - please check for current information. **

May 6, 2013

Seabirds begin nesting along SC coast

Pelican and other sea birdsIt's that time of year for nesting seabirds to congregate and begin nesting on the S.C. Department of Natural Resources Seabird Sanctuaries, Deveaux Bank, Bird Key Stono and Crab Bank. The nesting areas are managed by the DNR to help protect species such as brown pelicans, least terns, royal terns, sandwich terns, black skimmers, great egrets and American oystercatchers. All these islands have one thing in common - ideal conditions for ground nesting seabirds and shorebirds. Small, isolated sand islands make ideal nesting habitat due to the lack of mammalian predators such as raccoons.

Due to the sensitive nature of the colonies Crab Bank, an approximately 15 acre island at the mouth of Shem Creek, and Bird Key Stono, a 35-acre island at the Stono River Inlet, are closed to boat landings and the public from Mar. 15 to Oct. 15. The area on these islands below the high water line is open to the public from Oct. 16 to Mar. 14. Deveaux Bank, a 215-acre island between Seabrook and Edisto Islands, is closed year-round above the high water line. A portion of Deveaux Bank above the high water line is designated for limited recreational use. Dogs and camping are prohibited on all of the islands year-round. Trespassing violations on Bird Key Stono, Crab Bank, and Deveaux Bank incur a fine of up to $465 and/or 30 days in jail.

Species nesting on these estuarine islands typically find their location and mate in March, and build nests and lay eggs in April and May. Many younger birds do not leave nesting islands until October. Sanders said, "A seemingly innocent walk along the beach has unintended consequences for the birds. Seabird eggs are perfectly camouflaged for protection from predators and can easily be crushed underfoot. Even the most careful individuals will miss eggs. Also, if approached, the adults will leave the nest. With no shade, the sun can quickly bake chicks and eggs. Unprotected eggs are also easy targets for gulls, which snatch eggs and chicks from the nest."

Dehydration of chicks that have left the nest is another problem created by human disturbance. In several tern species, the chicks will leave the nest when able to walk and congregate along the beach in large groups. The parents fly into these groups and find their individual young to feed. People walking along the beach cause the large groups of chicks to run along ahead. Due to their small size and high summer temperatures, the chicks can quickly become dehydrated and die.

Dogs are particularly damaging to colonies due to their instinct to chase birds, Sanders said. Even the most calm house pet can hardly resist the urge to chase. For additional information, contact Felicia Sanders, coastal wildlife biologist with the DNR at (843) 520-0961, or SandersF@dnr.sc.gov. Also check the DNR Managed Lands website at http://www.dnr.sc.gov/birdsanctuaries/index.html for more information on the islands.

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