MILFORD >> Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is asking the public to help protect birds that nest in coastal areas by staying at least 50 yards away from places where large concentrations of birds are gathered and avoiding areas that are roped off or marked with signs designating nesting locations.

People visiting beaches are often unaware of the shorebirds that nest in the sands near where they are swimming, fishing and enjoying the beach. As a result, nests can accidentally get destroyed or abandoned and tiny fledglings that blend into their surroundings can get trampled and killed — especially during the busy summer.

“Shorebirds and wading birds need special protection throughout their April to September nesting season,” said Susan Whalen, deputy commissioner of the DEEP. “We urge beach-goers to keep fireworks and kites, especially kites that make noise, away from beach areas. We are also asking people to keep their pets leashed at all times and to stay away from fenced areas.”

Report any violations affecting wildlife to DEEP 24 hours, at 800-842-HELP or 860-424-3333.

Whether they are incubating eggs or in feeding areas, nesting birds, particularly piping plovers, least terns, American oystercatchers, herons, and egrets, are especially vulnerable to disturbance from kites, fireworks, free-roaming cats and unleashed dogs.

Once disturbed, these birds may abandon nesting areas, leaving eggs and hatchlings to die. Also, beachcombers, sunbathers and boaters can inadvertently trample piping plover and least tern eggs and the small chicks if they are not vigilant. To avoid this, DEEP has erected fencing and yellow warning signs along beaches where these birds build their shallow nests in the sand. Similarly, DEEP has cordoned off various off-shore islands where herons and egrets congregate in nesting areas called rookeries.

Last year, Connecticut lost one piping plover chick to an unleashed dog and one nest to trampling by individuals not respecting cordoned-off areas. These losses could have been avoided.

WHAT BEACH-GOERS SHOULD KNOW

While cordoned-off areas delineate critical nesting sites, once plover and tern chicks hatch they are mobile and can be anywhere on the beach. These tiny chicks are no bigger than a cotton ball colored to match beach sand; therefore, be aware of your surroundings when visiting a beach where plovers and terns are known to nest.

The piping plover, a small, sand-colored shorebird about the size of a robin, is a threatened species under both the federal and state Endangered Species Acts. The small, gull-like least tern nests in colonies in the same beach habitat as the piping plover and also is classified as a state threatened species.

Both piping plovers and least terns use only a shallow depression in the sand as a nest. The sand color of the eggs and young act as a camouflage protection from predators and makes them difficult to see on a sunny beach. When intruders approach, young piping plovers often stand motionless while the parent tries to attract attention by pretending to have a broken wing or flying around the intruder.

“If you see an adult bird acting as though it is injured or flying around you, carefully move away from the area at once, ideally toward wet sand along the water,” said Jenny Dickson, a DEEP supervising wildlife biologist. “Continued disturbance may cause abandonment of the chicks. Historically, piping plovers and least terns have declined due to the loss of beach habitat to residential and recreational development.”

BIRDS NESTING ON ISLANDS

Herons and egrets also are state-listed species, nesting on islands in Long Island Sound. To ensure the birds do not abandon these areas, DEEP has closed Charles Island in Milford and Duck Island in Westbrook to the public through the nesting season. The closing means there is no public access allowed including walking on the water’s edge, docking of boats and kayaks, or dog walking on the island. These Natural Area Preserves have also received designation as Audubon Important Bird Areas in recognition of their importance for nesting wading birds.

PROTECTING SHOREBIRDS AND WADING BIRDS

Respect cordoned off areas; they are sensitive areas important to the birds.

Do not build campfires or bonfires on beaches where plovers and terns nest.

Check local ordinances before bringing pets to beaches; dogs are prohibited at some beaches during the summer. Don’t allow dogs or cats to roam freely on beaches during the nesting season. Dogs and cats are frequent predators of piping plovers and least terns.

Do not let pets off boats onto posted islands or posted beaches.

Do not bury or leave trash, picnic leftovers and fish scraps on a beach. They attract predators of 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 to fly.

Do not attempt to remove young birds from the beach or coastal areas to care for them at home. In most cases, when immature birds are found alone, the adults have been frightened away but remain nearby to return once the intruder leaves.

It is illegal to hold wildlife for rehabilitation without state or federal permits. Shorebirds have a unique diet that people would find hard to duplicate, which may result in starvation of the young bird.