Coastal Programs

Least tern in flight. Photo: Katie Barnes

Alabama Coastal Bird Stewardship Program (ALCBSP)

The Alabama Coastal Bird Stewardship Program provides critical protection and monitoring of Alabama’s sensitive beach nesting birds in Mobile and Baldwin counties. ALCBSP is implemented by science staff based from the Birmingham Audubon Coastal Programs Office in downtown Mobile and supported by volunteers. The program focuses on the Audubon Coastal Bird Survey and continued breeding success of eleven focal species of concern including: Wilson’s plover, snowy plover, piping plover, American oystercatcher, red knot, sanderling, short-billed dowitcher, least tern, black skimmer, reddish egret, and brown pelican. ALCBSP complements the work of similar National Audubon Society initiatives in the Gulf of Mexico including Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas.

Black skimmers gather along the shore. Photo: Katie Barnes

Audubon Coastal Bird Survey (ACBS)

The Audubon Coastal Bird Survey (ACBS) is providing scientists with valuable data for addressing conservation needs of coastal waterbirds along the gulf coast. ACBS was originally established by Dr. Mark LaSalle and staff through the Pascagoula River Audubon Center in response to the Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill in 2010. Today, it continues to allow conservation planners to assess threats and identify targets for species of conservation concern that are experiencing population declines.

ACBS provides baseline data from which to compare future population trends for all coastal residing species and can serve as a bioindicator of coastal ecosystem health and population effects by human-induced threats as well as natural disturbances such as hurricanes, flooding, or storm surge. The ACBS program has engaged thousands of volunteers since launching in 2011. Frequent surveys during migratory and winter periods are not only used to understand how waterbirds use coastal habitats locally and across the northern Gulf of Mexico but are consistent with monitoring priorities developed by national waterbird and shorebird conservation plans. In addition, ACBS data aligns with International Shorebird Surveys, the primary tool for understanding migratory shorebird population trends across the Western Hemisphere.

Least tern chicks by National Audubon Society – Dr. Erik Johnson.

Coastal Habitats

Alabama’s coastal habitats (beaches, marshes, and islands) provide critical nesting, foraging, and overwintering grounds for many species of shorebirds and seabirds. Coastal habitat is a highly dynamic ecosystem which often suffers rapid decline driven largely by erosion, sea level rise, annual weather and tidal regimes, climate change, and human development and disturbance. Consequently, coastal-dwelling birds, especially those that use the beachfronts to nest, are threatened by these pressures and are exceptionally sensitive to human recreational disturbances. These disturbances expose the birds’ well camouflaged eggs and chicks to direct sun exposure and predation. Additionally, mammalian predators can be detrimental to regional populations, especially colonial nesting species like terns and skimmers.

Surveying & Monitoring

Birmingham Audubon staff and volunteers continue to collect ACBS data using standardized protocols at thirteen study sites across Mobile and Baldwin counties during designated survey pulses in the fall, winter, and spring. All coastal species are documented during surveys, with focus on the populations of Alabama’s eleven priority species.

The stewardship portion of the program provides outreach and beach nesting bird awareness by engaging the public through volunteer opportunities and stewardship. Coastal bird stewards act as the eyes, ears, and voice for nesting birds by maintaining the health and safety of nesting areas by the use of symbolic fencing and public outreach. Volunteer coastal stewards guide beachgoers and other threats away from these sensitive nesting areas, ultimately leading to increased nest success. Additionally, stewards engage the public by providing scope-based viewing opportunities into nesting areas, observing adults incubating eggs and/or feeding small, flightless chicks from a safe distance. The ALCBSP works directly towards conserving these critical beach nesting species during their annual breeding cycles and promotes public awareness to ensure their survivorship. They include: least tern (Sternula antillarum), black skimmer (Rynchops niger), snowy plover (Charadrius nivosus), and Wilson’s plover (Charadrius wilsonia). Monitoring critical nesting sites, assessing nest success, and determining breeding densities provides insight on Alabama breeding populations for these species, all of which are listed as Alabama Species of Conservation Concern.

Volunteer Opportunities

Click here to learn about ways you can get involved with our coastal programs!

For more information, contact Nicole Love, Birmingham Audubon Coastal Programs Coordinator. 

This program is funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund with additional support from Alabama State Lands Division of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.