What are beach-nesting birds?
Many different types of birds live in Australia’s coastal areas - gulls, terns, cormorants and shorebirds, to name a handful - but only a few of them actually nest on the beach.
There are five species of Australian shorebirds which nest only or usually on the beach:
We tend to think of beaches being covered in clean white sand, but not all beaches are sandy. Beach-nesting birds live on many different types of beaches. Sooty Oystercatchers prefer rocky coasts, where they search for food among the rocks. Pied Oystercatchers are more likely to be seen on sandy beaches where there are a few rocks about as well. Beach Stone-curlews usually live on sheltered beaches with muddy sand and mangroves growing nearby. Red-capped Plovers are often seen on sheltered muddy shores, but they also occur on sandy ones, and are abundant around wetlands, both saline and freshwater.
Hooded Plovers (in their eastern range) only occur on sandy beaches that are exposed to the ocean swells and backed by sand dunes; of course, these beaches are where most people choose to go. Beach-nesting birds, including Hooded Plovers, lay their eggs directly on the sand in a simple, shallow nest scrape. The nest can be anywhere above the high-tide mark, on the beach or in the dunes. Some other beach-nesting species, particularly oystercatchers, may also nest in rocky areas and on offshore islands.In Western Australia, they also nest inland around salt lakes and therefore have a different set of threats.
Why are beach-nesting birds threatened?
The greatest threat to Australia’s beach-nesting birds is disturbance from people visiting the beach. This disturbance is greatest in spring and summer, when beach-nesting birds usually lay their eggs, coinciding with the peak period of recreational use of beaches.
Hooded Plovers are the most threatened of them all, as they are the birds which inhabit the beaches most people like to visit. Their eggs are small (about the size of a 20-cent piece) and very well camouflaged, so they are easily trodden on by accident. If the incubating adult is scared off the nest by passers-by, the eggs may literally bake in the sun, or become too cold in the cool weather; either way, it kills the chick developing in the egg, and the egg will not hatch. Similarly, when people disturb a fluffy chick, it quickly runs into the sand dunes and hides. While it is running, the chick uses up valuable energy, and while it is hiding it is unable to feed (they usually forage at the water’s edge), so that a chick that is forced to run and hide throughout the day could easily starve.