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Stewardship Success in Southwest Louisiana

Volunteer bird stewards contributed 50 hours of service to protect beach-nesting birds over the Memorial Day weekend.

As pandemic restrictions are easing, many families gathered to celebrate the Memorial Day holiday weekend, and Louisiana’s beaches were popular destinations. Simultaneously, nesting Least Terns, Wilson’s Plovers, and Common Nighthawks are raising their young on some of these same beaches, prompting Audubon staff and volunteer stewards out to protect nesting areas all weekend long.

Rutherford Beach is a popular destination for fishing, crabbing, camping, recreation, and ecotourism in southwest Louisiana. Each year, hundreds of beachgoers visit the region to enjoy beach recreation and camping with family and friends. As the nesting season began in early May, Audubon staff and volunteers installed approximately one mile of symbolic fencing along the upper dunes to buffer sensitive nesting habitat from human disturbance. This fencing, outfitted with protective signage, was used to educate beachgoers about nesting birds and the importance of preserving the habitat for migratory nesting species.

A one-week-old Least Tern chick at Rutherford Beach. Photo: Erik I. Johnson, Audubon Louisiana

During the Memorial Day weekend, nine Audubon volunteers contributed 50 hours of stewardship to ensure the safety of nests and young downy chicks nestled in the coastal dune grasses. Additionally, increased wildlife enforcement presence by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries coupled with local law enforcement resulted in minimal disturbance to nesting birds, for which we (and the birds) were very grateful!

Audubon staff documented only one incident involving a beachgoer entering the fenced area over the busy holiday weekend. With the help of our dedicated volunteers, we were able to educate many beachgoers and ultimately increased nesting success for hundreds of Least Terns, along with dozens of Wilson’s Plovers and Common Nighthawks.

Audubon staff and volunteers educate beachgoers at Rutherford Beach. Photo: Katie B. Barnes/Audubon Louisiana

As we look to this year’s 4th of July celebration, we are hopeful for a similar outcome at Rutherford Beach. A firework display is scheduled for Saturday, July 3rd, and we anticipate a crowded beach with campers and off-road vehicles, as well as baby birds from the nests protected over Memorial Day weekend. These flightless chicks require their parents to shade them from the intense summer sun and protect them from predators. Prolonged disturbances such as flying kites directly over nesting birds can cause adults to flee from their nests and chicks, resulting in chick mortality and nest failure.

Volunteer bird stewards will be needed again for the 4th of July weekend at Rutherford Beach to safeguard these areas and educate the public about the importance of coastal dune habitat for both birds and people. If you are interested in volunteering, please contact Katie Barnes, Coastal Stewardship Manager, at katie.barnes@audubon.org.

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Audubon Arkansas, Audubon Louisiana, and Audubon Mississippi have joined forces to become Audubon Delta.