More than 60 mostly barefoot sets of fifth-grade feet scampered around the protective fencing on the south end of Wrightsville Beach on Monday as they jostled for position to peer through a scope and see the variety of nesting shorebirds in the island’s nesting sanctuary.
Their interest in these birds is part childhood wonderment, with a fair share of artistic expression. It will be their artwork of these birds that will help remind visitors to the south end not to disturb them during their nesting season. Each of the students of the fifth-grade class of Wrightsville Beach School had drawn pictures of the different birds, with different messages, urging visitors to stay away.
“Don’t be a pest, save our nests,” reads the sign drawn by Katie Speaks. Samuel Felton’s message is, “Don’t destroy our habitat.”
Now, these drawings have been converted into signs by Audubon North Carolina, and the students were there to see their artwork in action. But first, before seeing their signs, they learned a lesson about the birds’ nesting habits, including the dangers they face, with an emphasis on actions the kids can take to help keep the birds stay safe and healthy.
“We want the birds to stay because they won’t be disturbed,” said Marlene Eader, volunteer coordinator for Audubon North Carolina. “These are colonial nesters; they make a community. We can all learn from them.”
The shorebirds that commonly nest on the south end by Masonboro Inlet include common terns, least terns, oystercatchers and black skimmers.
Eader showed how the birds nest in the sand and stand overtop their eggs to protect and shade them. To demonstrate, Eader said she was “going to need some helpers,” and hands shot skyward as every one of the students wanted to be involved. Several students played the nesting birds, digging special-sized holes and placing inside a chick. Another student played a dog walker, while another was a crab and a third played a crow.
If a dog frightens the birds, they will attack en masse, Eader explained, and the kids playing the birds had fun chasing down the stuffed dog. But in leaving their nests unguarded, in came the crab and crow to snatch some chicks. If the parent birds are gone for too long, Eader continued, the eggs can literally cook in the hot sand.
“After learning about the birds it made me really want to stay away,” student Bailey Futch said. “I liked learning about how they travel all over the world and have to take long trips.”
Students took the opportunity given to them by the school’s marine science coordinator, Cissie Brooks, to add some artistic creativity. Inspired by her older sister, Sarah Hartzler’s sign showed a bird saying, “I’m getting my tan,” with the ocean in the background.
“I was really hoping I would see it,” Hartzler said after having her photo taken by it. “I liked to do the ocean. I used different colors of blue.”
Others were there to see the birds, as chaperones helped the students sight and peer through magnified bird-watching scopes to see the young chicks.
“They’re really small and speckly,” Lawton Mayo said after spotting one.
This is the fifth year the Wrightsville Beach School students have created sign designs for the beach fencing and as it turns out, they are trend setters. Walker Golder, Atlantic Flyway coastal program leader with the national Audubon Society, said the program is now being copied in Connecticut, Florida, New York and New Jersey. The project is supported by the Harbor Island Garden Club, which sponsors the school’s Rooty Rascals student organization.
For club member Kim Waters, one of the adults scampering after the kids, the project is a way of “putting something back” into the community.
But for Hartzler, it is a unique opportunity to impact her environment.
“I love birds and always want to do what I can to protect them,” she said.
Intern Sarah Sullivan contributed to this story.