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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

What can you do to protect our coastal birds when enjoying your time on the beach?


Respect Post Areas:  signs, ropes, and flagging, or “symbolic fencing” mark the perimeter of bird nesting and resting areas.  Please stay out of these closed areas to reduce disturbance to shorebirds and seabird


Share the Shore!  Give the birds their space on the beach.

Leave Dogs at Home:  Dogs look like predators and frighten coastal birds.  Dogs may cause birds to panic and fly away, leaving eggs and young vulnerable to deadly temperatures, predators, or even getting crushed underfoot.

Walk Around Birds:  Never make birds fly unnecessarily.  When birds are forced to fly, they expend valuable energy and time that could be used for feeding and resting, activities essential for sustaining migration and nesting.

Never Feed Wildlife:  Take all trash with you.  Birds are healthiest if they eat their naturally obtained food. Garbage attracts predators, like gulls and crows, as well as raccoons that prey on shorebird eggs and chicks.  Litter can also lead to entangled chicks and adults.  This is also true for our Sea Turtle nesting.

Watch Your Step:  Chicks and eggs are well camouflaged and may be outside a closed area such as the symbolic fencing (posted nesting area).  While walking on the beach during the spring and summer months, stay below the high tide wrack line, where birds do not nest. 


Thank you for helping us protect our coastal birds and conserve them for future generations. 


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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