Volunteers undergo training to protect threatened beach birds

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The aroma of burgers on the grill mingled with the sounds of birds on the beach Monday.  Audubon Society members hosted a Memorial Day cookout across from Beauvoir to recruit and train volunteers. Their role will be to help protect the threatened beach birds and their babies.

"Humans that are the biggest predators to them," Dustin Renaud told the group. "You just need to come prepared to deal with a variety of people."

Renaud is the Volunteer Coordinator for the National Audubon Society.  He said the volunteers will educate beach-goers about the 5,000 Least Terns and Black Skimmers that flock to South Mississippi beaches and islands every summer to nest in peace.

"We need about 32 people over the course of June and July," said Renaud. "We thought it was really important to get people engaged. So it's a face to face interaction with folks and it's not just a posted sign."

The Owen family came to learn how to get involved in the new Bird Stewardship Program.

"We don't want them to be endangered and we want to learn about them and what they do," said eight year old Laney Owen.

When asked why she wants to protect the birds, Laney responded: "Because they're cute."

"Me and my mom, we really like animals. It wouldn't be cool if they were endangered," said ten year old Liam Owen.

Other potential volunteers also understand why the terns need help to survive.

"They don't pick many places to nest anymore and people just don't pay attention to it. They're important. It is part of the ecology," said Mike Cazeaux of Gulfport.

"These birds are under so many threats. The main one being loss of habitat. But also the oil spill. We're still concerned. We don't know how it affected the food chain," said Renaud. "So we want to make sure we protect them as much as we possibly can by making sure people don't disrupt them."

The volunteers will be stationed around Least Tern colonies and they'll work in shifts during weekends and holidays. The Pascagoula River Audubon Center and the Mississippi Coast Audubon Society hosted the four-hour recruiting and training sessions.

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