BRUNSWICK, Ga. – For shorebirds on Georgia beaches, nesting and rearing chicks requires surviving a gauntlet of threats. Some of the deadliest come with fur: raccoons and coyotes.
But using National Fish and Wildlife Foundation funding, scientists at the Georgia Department of Natural Resources have documented ways to limit the impact these four-pawed predators have on two shorebird species of concern, Wilson’s plover and American oystercatcher. One welcomed result has been more productive nesting seasons for both, according to project leader Tim Keyes of DNR.
“In both cases, we moved the needle on one of the three biggest threats for shorebirds,” Keyes said.
Those top three threats are tides washing over nests, human disturbance and predation by mammals. The Atlantic Flyway Shorebird Initiative, an international effort to stem shorebird declines from the Arctic to Argentina, has been working on these and other issues for years. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation has provided key support, including in Georgia. Known to many as NFWF, the foundation was chartered by Congress to connect federal, corporate and other partners for conservation.
Keyes said DNR’s current grant has helped survey for banded oystercatchers and map horseshoe crab spawning area (the eggs are a critical food for federally listed red knots). Yet another highlight has been research by staff and a University of Georgia graduate student non-lethal methods to curb predation of Wilson’s plovers nesting on Little St. Simons Island and oystercatchers on Cumberland Island.
For the past two years, UGA’s Lauren Gingerella has put screen cages over about 50 of the 200 Wilson’s plover nests she has monitored on private Little St. Simons. The cages let birds in but kept raccoons out.
“Both years, nests with the enclosures hatched and fledged significantly more chicks,” Keyes said.