The population of federally protected birds called least terns may have taken a hit when beach volleyball players disturbed a government-protected hatching area on a small island off Alabama.
A nonprofit organization called Birmingham Audubon revealed that the players might have moved the eggs to make room for their make-shift court, which could have killed hundreds of unhatched birds and scared away adult birds from their nests.
A wildlife researcher discovered the damage over the Fourth of July weekend and necessary action had been taken since.
The conservation group surrounded the area with ropes and signs informing people that the Sand Island is a nesting area for the federally protected birds.
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Katie Barnes, a chief biologist of Birmingham Audubon's Coastal Program, informed AL.com that the informational signs worked and they have not sighted boats in the area, as well as human footprints.
As revealed by the New York Times, the least terns are protected by the federal government under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Barnes explained that the birds are easily scared by many reasons, including beach recreation. She said it is because they are sensitive.
The wildlife researcher who discovered the damage was Andrew Haffenden. At the time, he was conducting a bird survey for Birmingham Audubon.
He found 17 boats around the island and estimated that potentially hundreds of adult birds flew away as the volleyball players and watchers populated the island.
Haffenden explained that the eggs had to be kept cool by their parents by sitting on them. Without the adult birds, the eggs would have been baked to death under the harsh sun.
The organization immediately took action and informed the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Alabama Department of Conversation and Natural Resources.
Despite the damage, Barnes said the “site has still been a huge success for the birds.”
Still, even though they are not considered an endangered population in Alabama, least terns are regarded as such in other places.
Aside from being protected by the federal government, least tern birds are known for being half as big as cardinals.
They are white birds with black caps, and they lay eggs mainly on open beaches.