Energy & Environment

DOJ investigating after Alabama beachgoers apparently kill hundreds of protected birds

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is conducting an investigation after beachgoers visiting an Alabama island re-arranged eggs of a federally protected bird species and left them to "cook" in the sun, according to the Birmingham Audubon Society.

According to a Tuesday news release from the Audubon Society, the group discovered on July 10 that visiting beachgoers constructed a makeshift volleyball court on top of the breeding ground for least terns on Sand Island.

The group said at least 100 now-abandoned nests - which it noted was "likely an underestimate" - were affected by the incident.

"Each nest held one to three dead eggs that had cooked on the sand when the human disturbance forced the parents, whose bodies shield their unhatched young from the hot sun, to flee," the group said in the release.

The group said they found "about 30 Least Tern eggs stacked in small piles and arranged decoratively around wide mounds of sand." 

"What was really sad," Katie Barnes, a senior biologist for Birmingham Audubon, said in the release, "[is] there was a bird that was still trying to incubate her egg in that pile." 

The group said members returned to the colony to erect signs a day after the discovery, including federal warning signs provided by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and fenced off the colony with neon yellow rope and metal posts. 

"When they left on July 11, the sandbar was still home to some 1,200 actively nesting Least Terns and a handful of Black Skimmers," the group said.

The group said it has since reported the incident to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service because least terns are federally protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and added that DOJ is leading the investigation into the matter.

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