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Charles Island in Milford and Duck Island in Westbrook will be closed to the public from now through Sept. 9, to prevent disturbances to nesting birds.
Both islands have been designated by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection as Natural Area Preserves, primarily due to their 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), according to the DEEP.
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.
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. Fencing also is erected at beach nesting areas along Connecticut’s shoreline to safeguard piping plovers and least terns,” said Susan Whalen, DEEP Deputy Commissioner. “Closing the islands and enlisting the public’s help and cooperation are simple but effective ways to protect these birds.”
Background: Closing of Charles and Duck Islands
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, DEEP officials said. “This would have a tremendous negative effect on these declining bird populations,” according to wildlife experts.
To protect the nesting colonies (also known as rookeries) on Charles and Duck Islands, educational signs have been erected at access points describing these rare birds and why they should not be disturbed. Additionally, the sites are posted with island closure notices; the rookeries are fenced; and signs are posted that read “Do Not Enter – Bird Nesting Area.”
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, humans 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. Landing of watercraft on the beaches is prohibited.