Warning as thousands of vehicles make error on Aussie coast: 'Huge concern'

Drivers are likely running down birds on Australian beaches without realising it.

Four-wheel-drive enthusiasts are unwittingly pulverising camouflaged wildlife during beach adventures, bird protection groups warn.

Public holidays like Christmas and Australia Day are of particular concern as thousands of vehicles take to South Australia’s beaches when endangered shorebirds are nesting.

BirdLife Australia’s Andrew Hunter said the problem is a “huge concern” and has urged the state government to initiate protections for sensitive areas rather than leaving regulation to resource-strapped local councils.

Left - vehcile tracks on sand. Right - right large numbers of four-wheel-drives on the sand.
BirdLife Australia want state authorities to protect endangered birds from 4WDs. Source: Birdlife Australia

The peak advocacy group and its state counterpart argue there are plenty of spaces available to 4WD enthusiasts, but regulations are needed for sensitive areas during certain times of the year.

At risk are both migratory shorebirds, which are trying to feed and fatten up before flying north to breed, and local nesting species.

“Hooded plovers and red-capped plovers are pretty small that you might see running about on the beach, but they actually nest on the beach,” Mr Hunter said. “Their eggs are completely camouflaged so you’re not going to be able to see them unless you’re looking.”

Why drivers are mowing down camouflaged birds

Mr Hunter warns babies too are also well-camouflaged as they live their entire lives on the beach. This means both eggs and chicks are often crushed by the wheels of cars. Another issue is chick overheating, which occurs if the parents are scared away and unable to provide them with shade.

“If you imagine, even if you’re going a safe speed in a 4WD, if you access nesting sites, you’re not going to be able to see the eggs, or even sometimes the birds, because they'll hunker down and stay still to try to be camouflage,” he said. “So you might just run right over them, not knowing that they're there.”

A squashed red-necked stint on Kangaroo Island.
Twenty red-necked stints were killed on Kangaroo Island in 2021. Source: Birdlife Australia

Birdlife Australia and its state counterpart Birdlife South Australia say birds are regularly killed, however many cases go unreported. In 2021, a flock of 20 red-necked stints were crushed after a vehicle drove on a restricted Kangaroo Island beach.

Dogs also pose a threat to shorebirds, with their owners regularly ignoring warning signs prohibiting domestic animals from entering beaches where endangered birds are nesting.

Yahoo News Australia attempted to contact South Australia’s environment minister Susan Close, but she did not respond.

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