By Nicholas Aziz
On Wrightsville Beach’s north end, children huddled giddily on the sandy floor, surrounded by signs protecting the native birds’ nesting grounds. The 54 Wrightsville Beach Elementary School fifth graders were at the north end’s nesting grounds on June 5 to get a first-hand look at the signs they themselves had created to protect the shorebird colonies.
“Their signs are a critical part of what they’re learning,” said Cissie Brooks, a marine science instructor at the school. “We started these signs five years ago, and we’ve been doing this for about seven years. We have people from different states calling us all the time asking who made the signs, and they loved the artwork.”
Jackson Travis, 13, a volunteer for the National Audubon Society, presented to the class how the shorebirds’ nests were formed. He slightly covered the painted egg and the plush chick in the cool sand, relaying to them how the birds protect their young from predators by building colonies. The teacher relayed how the courtship process works between the birds they learned about, such as the oyster-catchers, black skimmers, common terns and sandpipers.
The children were then put into pairs to be the parents of the chick and egg. One child volunteered to be one of the distractions of the shorebirds, a person walking with their dog, and the other children pretending to be birds ran frantically, some flapping defenseless for students chosen as ghost crabs and crows to prey on the young. The kids were stricken to learn that because of these distractions, last year’s total of birds was 167 to now around thirty, but their signs play an important part in protecting the birds.
“The signs draw special attention to what’s going on,” Marlene Eader, the coordinator of volunteers at Audubon NC, stated. “And it has the sweet art and the messaging is appropriate. They’re really passionate, and these signs really enrich the experience.”
Afterward, the fifth graders walked the beach to visit the shorebirds they had learned about throughout the school year, Brooks arriving into their classrooms weekly to give presentations and workbooks on the subject. Near the end of the school, Audubon works with the kids to let them design signs, and Audubon creates them for beachgoers to see.
The National Audubon Society is a model program, and other states are replicating what they are doing in North Carolina in other states along the Atlantic coast and have just rolled a counsel stewardship for beach-nesting birds, making the kids who designed the signs play a part in protecting their nests known as bird stewards.