2016-06-23 / Nature

Unleashed Dogs Pose Danger to Nesting Birds

By Jack Kelly

An adult northern mockingbird feeds one of its nestlings. 
(Photos by Jack Kelly) An adult northern mockingbird feeds one of its nestlings. (Photos by Jack Kelly) Despite the best efforts of the Middletown Police Department, town officials, and the beach staffs of Sachuest and Third beaches, nuisance dogs continue to run loose on the beaches, counter to a town ordinance.

The ordinance declares that, “Between May 1 and September 30, leashed dogs may be walked on the beaches from 5 a.m.-7:45 a.m. only.” Dog owners found in violation of the law may be fined $100. Owners are also responsible for cleaning up after their pets whether leashed or not, and failure to do so may also result in a fine.

An area of concern involves the piping plover nesting sites at both town beaches. Three pairs of this endangered species are currently nesting or raising chicks in federally protected zones along the beachfronts. Some dog walkers disregard the “No Dogs” signs and allow their unleashed canines to romp along the roped-off areas and to run through the nesting areas. Federal law dictates criminal charges for acts of harassment or harm to piping plover adults, juveniles, and their nesting areas, or if such acts cause the birds to change behaviors with resulting losses in eggs or young. Criminal charges can bring a fine of up to $25,000, up to six months’ imprisonment, or both.

Proud osprey parents in the nest at Gooseneck Cove salt marshes. Proud osprey parents in the nest at Gooseneck Cove salt marshes. A local couple who asked not to be identified recently witnessed an unleashed dog racing through the nesting region on the east end of Sachuest Beach. “We were out for an early evening walk when we saw a young dog slip from its leash and chase one of the piping plovers in the roped-off area. The bird led the dog away from its young and then flew away. We immediately advised the owner of the problem his dog was causing, and he removed his dog from the beach. We don’t want to police the beach, but this could have been a very bad situation for the plovers as well as the dog owner.”

The Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge wetlands behind Third Beach have also been the scene of canine trespassing. According to Ryan Kleinert, a biologist with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “This is a closed area to the public and there are a number of nesting birds in the marsh which are greatly affected by such disturbances.”

Another issue becoming apparent is the effect that dogs have on ground-nesting birds in the dunes of both town beaches, as well as on species nesting low in beach shrubs and bushes. These breeds include red-winged blackbirds, grey catbirds, northern mockingbirds, and many others. Dogs running through the dunes have trampled nests, knocked others loose from bushes, or chased off adult birds that then abandoned their nests in fear. Rabbit nests have also been compromised, sending young rabbits fleeing for their lives and leaving them easy prey for any number of predators in the beach area.

Newport This Week has been contacted on a number of occasions by local residents complaining about dogs at town beaches. Incidents include an early morning walker whose leashed dog was set upon by a larger unleashed dog, and a senior citizen being knocked down by an overly playful canine. Some say they don’t report the problems to authorities because they don’t want to cause problems or be the target of reprisals. One local businessman confided that if he was branded as “anti-dog,” his business would suffer.

The Middletown Police Department asks that anyone witnessing loose dogs on town beaches to immediately call 401-846-1104. Calls will remain confidential.

Jack Kelly, a native Newporter, is a wildlife photographer and nature enthusiast who enjoys sharing his experiences with others.

Best Birding Spots

n Miantonomi Park
n Norman Bird Sanctuary
n Brenton Point State Park
n Albro Woods, Middletown
n Hazard Road, Newport
n Sachuest Point National
Wildlife Refuge, Middletown

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