Australia is home to several species of waders and seabirds that nest on our ocean beaches and on the sandy shores, sandspits and islands within our estuaries. These environments are rich with marine life that the birds use to raise their families.
Some birds, such as the pied oystercatcher, hooded plover and beach stone-curlew, are coastal residents all year, returning to preferred nesting sites to breed over spring and summer. Others, such as the little tern, migrate over thousands of kilometres of ocean each year, returning in spring to nest alongside the local birds.
But many species of beach-nesting birds are under threat of extinction, largely due to disturbance by dogs, unaware beachgoers and 4WD vehicles on beaches.
How you can help
There are a few simple steps you can take to help keep beach-nesting birds safe:
- Look out for bird nesting signs or roped-off nesting areas on the beach and follow the advice.
- Walk your dogs on dog-friendly beaches only and always keep them on a leash, unless you’re on a designated off-leash beach.
- Drive only on designated beaches and keep below the high-tide mark.
- When you’re near a nesting area, stick to the wet sand and give the birds plenty of space.
- Report sightings of these threatened birds to the Environment Line.
- Take 3 for the sea, or 4 for the shore – pick up rubbish and dispose of it thoughtfully.
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Why our beach-nesting birds are at risk
Domestic dogs are a major threat along the entire coast. While predation of eggs and chicks is recorded occasionally, frequent disturbance by dogs may reduce breeding in adults and the survival of eggs and chicks as parents leave nests to distract potential predators. Nesting birds can also be disturbed from their nest by unaware beachgoers, exposing eggs to heat, cold and other predators.
Chicks will hide and not feed when people are too close. If this disturbance is frequent or long enough, eggs and chicks may die. Living under constant threat of having your young eaten or nest destroyed is highly stressful. 4WD vehicles are an increasing threat at many sites.
Predation by introduced foxes can cause severe losses of eggs and chicks at mainland nesting sites. Predation by ravens and gulls may also be significant where rubbish left by people sustains high numbers of these predators. Inundation by king tides and storm surges can cause severe losses among little terns nesting on low-lying spits and islands. The frequency and severity of inundation may increase with climate change.
What we're doing to help
The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), together with the NSW Government’s Saving our Species program, has strategies in place to help secure a future for our threatened beach-nesting birds.
NPWS began managing beach-nesting birds at important nesting sites along the NSW coast in the 1980s. A statewide program was established in 2001 in collaboration with other public-land managers and volunteers.
Today, NPWS works with local councils, the NSW Department of Industry – Crown Lands, the Department of Defence, Parks Australia and volunteers to deliver management and monitoring at these sites. Volunteers contribute over 10,000 hours every year, making it the largest volunteer project under the Saving our Species program.