Shorebird Stewardship Program

red knot - CopyThe Kiawah Island Shorebird Stewardship Program aims to protect and conserve Kiawah’s shorebirds through outreach and education.  This program aims to increase awareness on the importance of minimizing disturbance to shorebirds while they are feeding or resting on the beach.  Some critical nesting areas are identified with Area Closed signage, but the vast majority of shorebird foraging and resting areas are unmarked and are easily accessible to walkers, bikers, playing children, and dogs. Human and animal disturbances can dramatically hinder shorebird survival.

Stewards walk on the beach, meet beachgoers and dog owners, and share photos, anecdotes, and other information about Kiawah’s shorebirds. Most visitors appreciate this opportunity to interact with shorebird stewards, ask questions, and learn about the shorebirds and Kiawah’s unique role in protecting them. 

History
In 2017, the Town of Kiawah created the Kiawah Island Shorebird Stewardship Program, modeled in conjunction with the SC Audubon Shorebird Stewardship program, to help protect shorebirds. Town of Kiawah Biologist Aaron Given and Shorebird Stewardship Coordinator Bette Popillo work together to train and manage shorebird steward volunteers who walk along the beach near critical nesting, resting, and foraging areas frequented by shorebirds.

Shorebirds on Kiawah
Kiawah Island’s ten-mile beach is an essential nesting, resting, and foraging area for thousands of resident and migrating shorebirds. Since the 1970’s the shorebird population has declined about 70%, with some shorebirds like the federally endangered and threatened Red Knots, declining 80% to 90%. Recent research studies determined Kiawah Island as a vital habitat for shorebirds’ survival. Each season brings different shorebirds to Kiawah.

  • Red Knots: March - May
  • Nesting Shorebirds: April - July
  • Fall and Winter Shorebirds: September - February
  • Resident or Common Shorebirds
Challenges
Although many people are attracted to Kiawah because of its natural beauty and wildlife, beachgoers are often unaware of how essential Kiawah is to the survival of shorebirds. Sizeable undeveloped areas at the eastern and western ends of Kiawah provide important habitat for shorebirds. Upon learning about the challenges of shorebirds and simple ways they can help, most people adopt shorebird-friendly behavior and become advocates for shorebirds.

How Can You Help?

  • Give birds space; don’t make them fly. Go around birds when biking, walking, and running.
  • Be a bird-friendly dog owner. Keep dogs on leash at least 100 feet away from birds. Shorebirds see dogs as predators, often confusing them with foxes or coyotes.
  • Use boardwalks and avoid dune areas. 
  • Avoid walking near posted shorebird nesting areas. Typically, shorebird nests are little divots in the sand on the open beach with highly camouflaged eggs. They’re difficult to see, making shorebird eggs easy to step on and destroy.

Volunteer
New shorebird steward volunteers don’t need to be shorebird experts but just have a desire to learn about shorebirds and to “walk and talk” on the beach where shorebirds are seen. The Kiawah Shorebird Stewardship Program actively welcomes volunteers who can participate in one or more of the three different stewarding seasons.

  • Flock Watch / Red Knot: March - May
  • Nesting: April - July
  • Fall and Winter Migration: September - February

All volunteers will undergo training, be provided seasonal materials, and agree to work at least 6 hours during one of the three designated seasons. Mentoring is available. If you are interested in learning more about volunteering, contact Bette Popillo via email here