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DNR News

May 8, 2014

Bird Cam on Crab Bank allows public to view seabird nesting season

The South Carolina Aquarium, the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, and S.C. Coastal Conservation League have partnered with Spy On A Bird, LLC to place a camera on Crab Bank from March through October, when humans are not allowed on the island. The live feed from this camera can be viewed in the Ocean Gallery at the South Carolina Aquarium, and online. Perry Herpai of Spy On A Bird donated his time and expense to travel to Charleston many times and set up the system, as well as consult and manage troubleshooting.

Some highlights to which viewers can expect to look forward include: Brown Pelicans nest-building in April; Brown Pelicans, Royal Terns, Sandwich Terns, and American Oystercatchers’ eggs hatching in May; fledglings starting in July. Viewers can also use the website to learn about identifying each of these birds.

Having access to the live feed is an exciting and unique opportunity for the public to see these interesting birds. The colonial nesting behavior of the birds makes them very susceptible to disturbance. These beach-­?nesting species lay eggs in shallow scrapes or rough nests directly on the ground, and can easily be crushed underfoot. If approached, adult birds will leave the nest, and without shade, the sun quickly damages unprotected eggs, which are also easily snatched from their nests by gulls. Dogs are particularly damaging to colonies because of their instinct to chase the birds. For all these reasons, access to the live feed is an educational opportunity and one in which the public should be excited to participate while still protecting the birds.

Crab Bank Seabird Sanctuary was established to protect nesting habitat of seabirds and shorebirds. The Sanctuary encompasses approximately 22 acres at the mouth of Shem Creek in Charleston Harbor. Crab Bank supports colonies of nesting waterbirds because of its isolated nature and lack of mammalian predators. Species nesting on Crab Bank include: Brown Pelican, Royal Tern, Sandwich Tern, Black Skimmer, Gull-billed Tern, Laughing Gull, and American Oystercatcher. Willet, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, and Tricolored Heron also nest on the island. Besides providing nesting habitat, the Sanctuary provides winter resting and feeding areas for numerous species.

Nesting colonies of waterbirds are spectacular in appearance not only to bird watchers, but also to anyone appreciative of the diversity of nature. They are important to humans because they are indicators of environmental quality and ecosystem health. Unfortunately, many waterbird species are declining because of the direct impacts of human activities. The areas on which they nest, feed, and winter are also at risk due to human-related and natural threats. There are only five islands in South Carolina where Brown Pelicans, Royal Terns, and Sandwich Terns nest. Seabird Sanctuaries like Crab Bank are critical for the survival of these iconic coastal birds.

Species nesting on these estuarine islands typically find a territory and mate in March, and build nests and lay eggs in April and May. Many younger birds do not leave nesting islands until October. Therefore, the Sanctuary is closed to public use from March 15 through October 15. The area may be viewed from boats during these months and is accessible to the public below the high water tidal line from October 16 through March 14. Dogs are prohibited year-round and camping is not allowed.


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