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What is a Critical Shorebird Sanctuary

A Critical Shorebird Sanctuary is a beach habitat designated for threatened and endangered coastal birds.  Why is it important?  The birds use this habitat to breed, forage, and rest on this portion of the beach which is uniquely suited for their survival.   On Hunting Island State Park, the Critical Shorebird Sanctuary is located at the north end of Hunting Island, just north of the campground beach access.   There are signs and buoys designating the sanctuary.  This area of the beach is protected year-round because birds are active all year in some capacity.  In the Spring, the birds begin nesting and continue through August, but breeding season is not the only time of the year these birds need protection.  In August through October each year, Hunting Island is a vital stop for migrating birds traveling to points south such as Florida, Texas, Central America, and South America.  Migration carries high costs in predation and mortality.  They are driven primarily by the availability of food.  These birds need to rest and refuel just as we do when we travel.  They expend a tremendous amount of energy breeding and in flight depleting their food stores.  They remain on our beaches for weeks or months as they recover and rebuild their stamina to complete their journey south.  Conversely, the same is true in the spring when the birds will migrate north to their breeding grounds. 


 During the winter months, many other coastal bird species will choose to remain on our beach during the fall and winter months.  

These birds are Federally protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and further state and local regulations help ensure their survival. Please help us protect these vulnerable coastal birds while enjoying the beach by following these tips:


Observe and enjoy the birds from a safe distance, about 100 feet of space from flocks and nesting, using binoculars, cameras, and/or spotting scopes

Do not chase birds, this can cause great harm to their survival

Walk, run, or cycle around, not through, flocks of birds and/or nesting areas

Dogs are not allowed in the Critical Bird Sanctuary, please walk them on a leash in designated dog-friendly areas

Fly kites outside of the Critical Bird Sanctuary to avoid disturbing birds

Seek out our Shorebird Stewards with yellow vests for assistance and/or education

Avoid setting up your beach gear too close to designated bird nesting areas or flocks of birds

Golf carts are not allowed in the Critical Bird Sanctuary


Additional educational links


Audubon SC Coastal Birds

Audubon, The Migratory Bird Treaty Act   

Friends of Hunting Island SCDNR Coastal Bird Webpage provides our coastal bird species and their state/federal designations

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