Helping hands: For the birds
The Wrightsville Beach Bird Stewards serve as volunteer ambassadors for nesting birds, like this Black Skimmer parent and chick, who settle into the beach's south end from March through August. (Photo by Evan Mauk/Courtesy of Wrightsville Beach Bird Stewards)
Editor’s note: Helping Hands is a recurring feature that spotlights volunteer opportunities for older adults across the Wilmington area. Each spring and summer, dozens of Wrightsville Beach Bird Stewards advocate for the birds hatching and nurturing their young on the beach's south end.
Across the country, National Audubon Society volunteers referred to as Bird Stewards head to nesting sites on beaches to educate beachgoers about the birds, increase awareness of the birds’ needs and help the public enjoy wildlife at the beach. Wrightsville Beach is one of the lucky beaches where a variety of birds migrate and nest including American Oystercatchers, Least Terns, Black Skimmers, Common Terns and Gull-billed Terns. Wrightsville Beach Bird Stewards are volunteer ambassadors for these nesting birds and their young, who are vulnerable to dangers including temperature stress from hot sand, predators such as gulls and crows, and being stepped on by people or dogs.
The bird steward program at Wrightsville Beach, first organized in 2012, is supervised by Lindsay Addison, a coastal biologist. Addison and her staff monitor 19 island sanctuaries from Ocracoke Inlet to the Lower Cape Fear River, representing about 40% of the state’s nesting coastal waterbirds. Marlene Eader is coordinating volunteers for the 2023 nesting season at the south end of Wrightsville Beach.
Eader said, “Being a Bird Steward is simple and enjoyable. Spending time at the colony and talking to beachgoers is all it takes. One of the most powerful aspects of being a Bird Steward is sharing whatever you like about the birds. Signs, newspaper articles and other forms of outreach are effective, but as a Bird Steward you have the chance to connect with people individually.”
According to Addison, the program has about 60 active volunteers in any given year. “Bird stewarding is a great activity for people of all ages who enjoy spending peaceful time in nature. Older folks often have more time which makes it easier for them to volunteer. And they often have a lot of experience interacting with people,” she said.
Last year, volunteers ranging from school age to septuagenarians donated 3,000 hours of time to the program.
“If you can walk at least one mile on sand, enjoy being on the beach and watching birds, and are friendly towards beachgoers who express interest in the birds, then you would enjoy this experience,” said Eader.
Volunteers are required to attend training in early spring and then receive on-the-job training before working on their own. Bird Stewards carry a laminated sheet with talking points about nesting disturbances and photos of eggs, chicks and adults of each of the nesting species. Some Bird Stewards choose to stand or sit in one spot and observe the birds. Others walk around the posted area to keep an eye on the perimeter while being visible to beachgoers who may have a question. Volunteering starts in March when Bird Stewards post signs on the beach at the nests and weekly shifts run from April to August. Most volunteers sign up for weekly three-hour shifts.
“If you have a pair of binoculars or a scope, bringing it will make watching the parents and chicks even more rewarding for you,” adds Eader.
Addison added, “Observing birds raise their families over the course of spring and summer is a unique experience. The bird posting is a fun destination for people visiting Wrightsville Beach, whether they are locals who come all the time or folks from out of town who make the drive specifically to see the birds. People often come back with family members or friends to show them the birds. They wouldn’t know about the birds without our stewards.”
Interested in becoming a Bird Steward on Wrightsville Beach? Now is the time to visit the south end of Wrightsville Beach and talk to the bird steward on duty, who will be wearing a blue shirt. Learn more on the Wrightsville Beach Bird Steward blog or Audubon North Carolina’s website, or get the ball rolling to join the Bird Stewards next year by emailing the volunteer coordinator.