Watch out - shorebirds about

Spring is here so watch your step because beach-nesting birds have started setting up home on Port Stephens' sandy shores.

Little tern (Sternula albifrons)

Shorebirds such as endangered pied oystercatchers and little terns lay their eggs in shallow scraped-out nests in the sand, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) Threatened Species officer Ms Katherine Howard said.

"Port Stephens is an important breeding area for these threatened species," Ms Howard said.

"The breeding population of little terns in New South Wales declined from 2001 to 2020 by 2.6% per year, and currently there are only about 463 nesting pairs in New South Wales.

"Pied oystercatchers are a distinctive shorebird and regularly seen, so it may come as a surprise to learn that there are only about 140 breeding pairs in New South Wales."

"We need to share the shorelines with them, bearing in mind their eggs and chicks camouflage so well against the sand they are almost invisible and easy to step on or crush."

NPWS and partner organisations work to protect threatened beach-nesting birds by managing predators and preventing disturbance or accidental crushing by beach users, vehicles and dogs.

"The whole community can help protect shorebirds by keeping out of nesting areas marked by signs or fences, only taking your dog to designated dog beaches and keep them on leash over summer," she said.

"Chicks are highly camouflaged and don't necessarily stay within marked nesting areas, so reduce your risk of accidentally stepping on a chick by walking on the wet sand."

Shorebirds nest on sandy beaches along the NSW coastline, including Corrie Island Nature Reserve, Winda Woppa peninsula in Hawks Nest and the Worimi Conservation Lands.

Known nest sites may be indicated by fencing or signs, while parts of some beaches such as those on Corrie Island will be entirely closed to visitors during the breeding months from August to March, to allow these birds space and peace to raise their families.

Pied oystercatchers with their black-and-white feathers, pink legs and red beaks are easily identified. Almost always seen in pairs, they live in Australia year-round and have already started laying eggs.

Meanwhile, endangered little terns fly thousands of kilometres from eastern Asia before nesting up and down the coast around places like Port Stephens.

With their black 'caps', white bodies and pale-grey wings, little terns lay eggs and raise chicks on Australian beaches over summer, usually arriving between September and November.

Visitors are reminded that dogs are not allowed on NPWS national parks, including Corrie Island Nature Reserve, at any time.

People are reminded penalties can apply to individuals causing disturbance or damage to threatened species, including their eggs or chicks.

Protection and monitoring of beach-nesting birds in Port Stephens is delivered by the NSW Government's Saving our Species program, MidCoast Council, NPWS, Biodiversity Conservation Division and the Myall Koala and Environment Group, and is supported by Hunter Local Land Services through funding from the Australian Government's National Landcare Program.

Learn more here: Beach-nesting birds: Share the shore.

Feathered facts

  • Endangered little terns migrate thousands of kilometres from eastern Asia to lay their eggs on Australian beaches every summer, usually arriving on NSW beaches between September to November.
  • At less than 25 cm long, little terns are the smallest terns in New South Wales.
  • They have 'black caps' over white feathers with pale-grey wings
  • The breeding population of little terns in New South Wales has been declining by 2.6% per year from 2001 to 2020.
  • Pied oystercatchers are distinctive, black-and-white shorebirds with pink legs and red beaks. Almost always seen in pairs, they live in Australia year-round, and usually start nesting in August or September.
  • 'Oystercatcher' is bit of a misnomer, as this species eats many other invertebrates as well as oysters and other bivalve molluscs.
  • Eggs of beach-nesting birds are speckled and blotched to provide camouflage but are still at risk of predators both on the ground and from the air. Predators of shorebird eggs include foxes, dogs, dingoes, ravens, silver gulls, and goannas.
  • Beach-nesting birds lay their eggs in shallow scrapes in the sand, often on estuary entrance bars up and down the coast.

Four simple steps to help keep beach-nesting birds safe:

  1. Look out for bird nesting signs or fenced-off nesting areas on the beach, stay well clear of these areas and give the parent birds plenty of space.
  2. Walk your dogs on designated dog-friendly beaches only and always keep them on a leash over summer.
  3. Drive only on designated beaches, stay out of nesting areas and follow all local beach-driving rules.
  4. Chicks are mobile and don't necessarily stay within fenced nesting areas. When you're near a nesting area, stick to the wet sand to avoid accidentally stepping on a chick.