Charles Island in Milford and Duck Island in Westbrook will be closed to the public through Sept. 9 to prevent disturbances to nesting birds, according to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP).
Both islands have been designated by DEEP as Natural Area Preserves, primarily due to their importance as nesting habitats for several state-listed birds, including snowy egrets and great egrets, which are state threatened species, glossy ibis, and little blue herons, are listed by the state as birds of concern. The two islands also have been designated as Important Bird Areas by Audubon Connecticut.
In addition, the DEEP is asking beachcombers, sunbathers, and boaters along the Connecticut shoreline to respect the fencing and yellow signs warning of piping plover and least tern nesting sites.
“The piping plover, a small, sandy-colored shorebird about the size of a sparrow, is a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act, as well as a state threatened species in Connecticut,” according to a DEEP press release. “The small, gull-like least tern, which nests in colonies in the same beach habitat as the piping plover, also is a state threatened species.”
“Each year, Charles and Duck Islands are closed during the nesting season to protect various bird species,” said Susan Whalen, DEEP deputy commissioner. “Fencing also is erected at beach nesting areas along Connecticut’s shoreline to safeguard piping plovers and least terns. Closing the islands and enlisting the public’s help and cooperation are simple but effective ways to protect these birds.”
DEEP officials say that protecting heron and egret nesting areas on Charles and Duck islands are important steps to prevent disturbances that can result in abandonment of the nests and possibly of the entire colony.
“This would have a tremendous negative effect on these declining bird populations,” according to a DEEP statement. “When young birds become agitated by disturbances, they often fall from the nest. Once grounded, the young birds die of starvation or predation. If disturbances continue, the adults may abandon the nesting area. Examples of disturbances to these rookeries include unleashed dogs, boat and kayak landings, people approaching fenced nesting areas, camp-outs, and bonfires.”
Signs stating the closure of Charles and Duck islands are posted and DEEP Environmental Conservation Police Officers will be patrolling the islands.
“The entire island areas are completely closed,” according to the DEEP. “Landing of watercraft on the beaches is prohibited. The public can help to protect nesting birds by following the closure and reporting any observed violations by calling DEEP’s 24-hour Dispatch Center at 860-424-3333.”
The DEEP Wildlife Division also suggests the following to protect nesting shorebirds:
• Refrain from walking dogs or allowing house cats to roam freely on beaches during the nesting season.
• Do not bury or leave trash, picnic leftovers, and fish scraps on a beach. They attract predators of shorebird chicks and eggs, such as skunks, raccoons, foxes, and black-backed gulls.
• Do not attempt to “rescue” young birds that appear to be lost or too young.
• Do not attempt to remove young birds from the beach to care for them at home. In most cases, when immature birds are found alone, the adults have been frightened away but remain nearby and will return to their young once the intruder leaves.