Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Georgia
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Sabine, J. B., III, J. M. Meyers, C. T. Moore, and S. H. Schweitzer. 2008. Effects of human activity on behavior of breeding American Oystercatchers, Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia, USA. Waterbirds 31:70-82.


Increased human use of coastal areas threatens the United States population of American Oystercatchers (Haematopus palliatus), a species of special concern. Biologists often attribute its low numbers and reproductive success to human disturbance, but the mechanism by which human presence reduces reproductive success is not well understood. During the 2003 and 2004 breeding seasons, 32 nesting attempts of American Oystercatchers were studied on Cumberland Island National Seashore (CINS). Behavior was examined with and without human activity in the area to determine how human activity affected behavior. The oystercatchers’ behavioral responses (proportion time) were analyzed with and without human or intraspecific disturbances using mixed models regression analysis. Proportions of time human activities were present (≤300 m from oystercatchers) during observations averaged 0.14 (N = 32, 95% CI = 0.08-0.20). During incubation, pedestrian activity near (≤137 m) oystercatchers reduced the frequency of occurrence of reproductive behavior, but pedestrian activity far (138-300 m) from oystercatchers had no effect. Vehicular and boat activities (≤300 m) had minimal effects on behavior during incubation. During brood rearing, an effect of pedestrian activity near oystercatchers was not evident; however, pedestrian activity far from oystercatchers increased the frequency of reproductive behavior. Vehicular and boat activity had no effects on behavior during brood rearing. Of 32 nesting attempts, two failed (<10%) because of human disturbance and were located in areas of greater human activity (south end). Managers on CINS should minimize pedestrian activity near nests (≤137 m) during incubation. During brood rearing, protection from pedestrian activity should be increased, when possible, to >137 m and vehicular activity should be minimized at current levels or less.