This article was first published in the Post and Courier.
Brightly colored, hand-made signs encouraging respect for posted coastal bird nesting areas have been placed at Folly Beach, Sullivan’s Island and Cape Romain boat landings. The placards are the work of elementary school students.
Audubon South Carolina Executive Director Sharon Richardson said she believes the signs have been an effective way to educate people to give space to coastal birds.
“The kids’ signs have proven eye-catching, fun and exciting. A young student’s creativity can go far beyond what the traditional regulatory sign can do,” she said.
Students in fourth through sixth grades made the signs. At Folly, they are posted at both ends of the island, including Lighthouse Inlet Heritage Preserve. The signs were placed on beach access paths on Sullivan’s. Audubon recently scored a major win at Lighthouse Inlet Heritage Preserve where A mer ic a n O ysterc atcher fledglings were documented for the first time in years. The student signs and Audubon volunteer shore stewards played a role in the success. “Oystercatchers usually try to nest on this beach but are inevitably scared off the nest by too many roving beachgoers walking too close. Watching those chicks grow old enough to fly and fend for themselves was a wonderful sight,” said Nolan Schillerstrom, Audubon South Carolina’s coastal program coordinator.
The signs happen when Audubon staff gives coastal bird presentations to students who are asked to draw their favorite shorebird or seabird and an original slogan.
“It’s one of my favorite times of the year when I go into classrooms to get kids excited about shorebirds and seabirds,” Schillerstrom said.
Selected drawings are then made into durable plastic signs that are posted at beach access paths next to important and threatened bird nesting areas. The children’s signs are part of an ASC initiative called “Let ‘em Rest, Let ‘em Nest.”
How close to a bird is too close? If birds react — calling loudly or taking flight — step back immediately. A good rule is to stay at least 50 yards away, according to Audubon.
Audubon started the yearlong “Let ‘Em Rest, Let ‘Em Nest” campaign in March 2017 in partnership with the Charleston Animal Society to help migrating and nesting birds. The program aims to educate South Carolinians and coastal visitors how to create safe spaces for coastal birds.
Each year, hundreds of thousands of birds use South Carolina beaches to forage for food, hatch their young and rest during long migrations.
“When we scare a bird off a nest, for example, it takes just minutes for the hot sun to kill its eggs or chicks,” according to Audubon.
Such disturbances are one reason for the abrupt decline of species like the Least Terns, Wilson’s Plovers and Piping Plovers, Audubon says.
ASC ultimately hopes to increase coastal bird populations which have been declining for a few decades. Go to sc.audubon.org/coasts to learn more.