DEEP: DEEP Asking for Public’s Help in Protecting Heron and Egret Nesting Areas on Offshore Islands

June 7, 2013
 
DEEP Asking for Public’s Help in Protecting Heron and Egret Nesting Areas on Offshore Islands
 
Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) is asking the  public to help protect heron and egret nesting areas on offshore islands in Long Island Sound – especially on Charles Island, Milford and Duck Island, Westbrook, two islands that have been officially closed to prevent disturbances to birds.
 
The closure of Charles and Duck Islands went into effect on May 26 and extends through September 9, 2013. The closed area includes the entire island – both the upland vegetated portions as well as the sandy, cobbled beach sections. Both islands are designated by DEEP as Natural Area Preserves, primarily because of their critical importance as nesting habitats for several state-listed birds, including snowy egrets and great egrets (state threatened species), glossy ibis, and little blue herons (state special concern). The two islands have also been designated as Important Bird Areas by Audubon Connecticut.
 
Protecting herons and egrets from human disturbance during the nesting season (mid-May-September) is the key element in restoring their populations. The public can help in this effort by following the closure order and reporting any observed violations to the DEEP at 1-800-424-3333. DEEP Environmental Conservation Police Officers will be stepping up patrols at these islands, particularly on weekends and after dark. Landing of watercraft on the beaches is prohibited, and anyone trespassing on Charles and Duck Islands during the closed period could be fined up to $500 and/or imprisoned for up to six months per violation. There are additional violations under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act for disturbing a protected nesting colony.
 
Critical nesting areas on these islands are protected with fencing and signs that read “Do Not Enter – Bird Nesting Area.” Several locations also feature large, educational signs that alert visitors to the birds’ presence and the need for protection of nesting areas. This causes tremendous stress and disturbance to the nesting birds, and there is serious concern that they will abandon the nest site and not be able to successfully raise their young this year.

These birds are already stressed due to damage caused by Superstorm Sandy in October 2012. Herons and egrets build their nests in trees and many of the trees on the islands were damaged by Sandy, and the birds are now concentrated in the few remaining trees. The storm also reduced the amount of cover provided by vegetation and the tree canopy, which increases the visibility of the birds and their sensitivity to any disturbance caused by humans.  Unfortunately, people continue to visit Charles and Duck Islands in large numbers, in violation of the closing order, and they are venturing close to the nests.  Unleashed dogs set loose on the island also pose a special danger as the birds perceive them as predators.    
 
{Photograph of great egrets.}
 
Photo credit: Paul J. Fusco, DEEP Wildlife Division