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Shorebird Conservation - Share the Beach
We all love to play on the beach, the same beach where many species of shorebird and seabird forage, rest, and nest. With habitat degradation from urban expansion and invasive plants like European beach grass, our sandy beaches are getting more narrow. This pushes birds, people, pets, and predators into tighter and tighter areas.
Shorebirds come in all sorts of sizes and shapes, and during migration thousands of them coarse along the Oregon coast, pausing to fuel up on crustaceans and other invertebrates that live in the sand. Each species has its own foraging tactic - probing, sifting, pecking - with a unique bill and legs to give them an edge on their prey.
Sometimes when people see a large flock of shorebirds, the temptation to rush into them and watch them fly up and away is irresistible. Shorebirds often perceive dogs as predators, and indeed many beachgoers encourage their dogs to chase after foraging shorebirds. These disruptions may seem harmless and fun, but they take a large energy toll on the birds, many of which are migrating thousands of miles along the coast to reach their breeding or wintering grounds.
Can you imagine running 100 miles, stopping for something to eat, and then never getting more than a bite or two before a semi truck charges right at you? That's what it is like for many shorebirds.
It is even harder on beach nesting birds, like the Caspian tern or the threatened western snowy plover. Repeated disruptions don't just affect the adults; disturbance also impacts the nest, eggs, and chicks. Without a parent to protect them, they often succumb to weather or predators. Many birds only have one or two seasons to try and breed. The loss of a nest might mean they never pass on
For more in giving beach-nesting birds a chance, check out BirdLife International's video: Give Beach-Nesting Birds a Chance
Western Snowy Plover
How many plovers do you see in this image?
The western snowy plover (Charadrius nivosus nivosus)
is a small shorebird, about the size of a sparrow, that lives on our
sandy beaches. Their cryptic coloration helps them blend in against the
beach - can you spot the plovers in the picture above? Key field marks
are the black bar on their forehead and dark patches behind the eye and
on the neck. The Pacific Coast population has declined precipitously
from it's historical numbers, and is listed as threatened by Oregon and
the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.
Do you see the color bands on the plover's legs? This is how we track the plover population. Each adult bird band combination is unique, like giving them names.
Plovers forage among the wrack line and nest in the dry sand with little to no vegetation cover. Well-camouflaged, snowy plovers often crouch in depressions in the sand or hide behind driftwood to shelter from the rough ocean winds. With the invasion of European beach grass, our Oregon beaches are getting more and more narrow, pushing recreationists and plovers into tight proximity. It can be hard for the little birds to raise their young amidst people and dogs at play. Three main factors threaten their survival.
Changes to traditional sandy nesting areas on the beaches mean that plovers have lost the places that they need to live, feed, and raise their young.
Predators—some native, some introduced by people—take more plovers than are replaced by natural reproduction.
When plovers are nesting, feeding and raising their young, they have a harder time surviving if people harm or disturb them.
To help the plover survive and recover, all three forces—habitat, predators and people—are part of the solution. Please help these birds by respecting their nesting areas while you enjoy the the beach.
OPRD and the Plover
The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD) is legally responsible for recreation on the Ocean Shore. Our mission balances the public's right to enjoy the natural resources and the need to protect those natural resources for all the future.
Management of the Ocean Shore could negatively affect the snowy plovers that live there, which would be considered take as defined under both state and federal Endangered Species Acts. "Take" describes anything that harms a protected species. Obvious acts like killing or injuring a plover are considered take, but so are not-so-obvious things like chasing, interrupting feeding, or scaring birds off nests. Take doesn't have to be intentional to be serious; it can be an accident.
To protect both the plover and the public's recreational access to Oregon's beaches, OPRD developed the Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) with the Federal United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). The HCP provides a balanced roadmap for both people and plovers to share the beach. The HCP concentrates plover recovery actions to 16 areas on the coast.
Snowy Plover Management Areas
There are five OPRD-managed Snowy Plover Management Areas (SPMAs) in Oregon.
Bandon, Bandon State Natural Area -
Clatsop Spit, Fort Stevens State Park
Necanicum Spit, Gearhart Ocean State Recreation Area
Nehalem Spit, Nehalem Bay State Park
Netarts Spit, Cape Lookout State Park - currently unmanaged
In addition, there are 11 areas on the Ocean Shore called Recreation Management Areas (RMAs). These areas front lands owned by other agencies or private citizens that may provide suitable nesting habitat.
- Baker Beach RMA (managed by USFS)
- Sutton Beach RMA (managed by USFS)
- Siltcoos RMA (managed by USFS)
- Dunes Overlook RMA (managed by USFS)
- Tahkenitch RMA (managed by USFS)
- Tenmile RMA (managed by USFS)
- Coos Bay North Spit RMA (managed by BLM and ACOE)
- New River/Floras Lake RMA (managed by BLM)
Shorebird Seasonal Beach Access Restrictions
OPRD and its partners enact seasonal recreation restrictions in shorebird conservation areas, SPMAs and RMAs to protect shorebirds. Keep in mind that only part of the beach is affected - the dry sand above the high tide line is set aside to either help nesting plovers, or to encourage them to start nesting. The wet sand still remains open to pedestrian and equestrian use. Dogs, vehicles, and kites are prohibited on SPMAs and RMAs with active nesting during the seasonal restrictions. These activities are too risky to the birds; however, there are many beaches adjacent to the plover areas where visitors can enjoy these forms of recreation.
2013 Recreation Restrictions
Seasonal recreation restrictions are based on the status of the SPMA or RMA. Management areas where snowy plovers have exhibited breeding behavior are considered occupied; areas that may attract snowy plovers are considered unoccupied.
Occupied SPMAS, RMAS, and Shorebird Conservation Areas
Restrictions active from March 15 - September 15
Dogs, kites, and vehicles prohibited; pedestrians and equestirans wet sand access only
- Baker Beach RMA
- Sutton Beach RMA
- Siltcoos RMA
- Dunes Overlook RMA
- Tahkenitch RMA
- Tenmile RMA
- Coos Bay North Spit RMA
- Bandon SPMA
- New River/Floras Lake RMA
Unoccupied SPMAS, RMAS, and Shorebird Conservation Areas
Restrictions active from March 15 - July 15
Voluntarily leash dogs and avoid dry sandy areas.
Clatsop Spit SPMA
Necanicum Spit SPMA
Nehalem Spit SPMA