Cornwall’s coast is a very special place for birds and the sea provides food and a safe place to rest for many. Some birds spend their whole life at the coast while others use it mainly in the breeding season (February to July, depending on the species) or over

To thrive, birds need safe places to rest and feed throughout the year as well as suitable places to breed. Depending on the species, birds nest in crevices, on cliff tops and cliff faces at different levels, in burrows and on boulder, shingle or sandy beaches above the high tide line.

Cliffs are important for seabirds such as guillemots, fulmars, shags and kittiwakes, several large gull species, plus ravens, jackdaws and the rarer choughs, as well as raptors such as. peregrines and kestrels. Shorebirds including turnstones and oystercatchers use
rocky and sandy beaches while wading birds and wildfowl, including dunlin, lapwings, curlews, shelduck, wigeon and teal use the more sheltered estuaries and saltmarshes. In winter, some inshore areas are particularly important for divers and grebes while
estuaries attract large numbers of waders and wildfowl.

How disturbance affects them:

  • Birds scared away from nests leave their eggs or young at risk of chilling and attack from predators. Eggs and chicks may also be knocked into the sea by panicked parents
  • Birds that are repeatedly scared from an area may stop using it altogether. This also reduces the areas available for birds to live and breed
  • Birds scared off whilst roosting, resting and feeding will use up vital energy, making them more vulnerable to predators and disease.

Actions that scare, startle or panic birds:

  • Getting too close
  • Sudden movements
  • Loud noises, shouts & screams

How to tell you’ve been spotted:

  • Heads up
  • Bunching together or turning
  • Alarm calls
  • Birds will look visibly agitated

It’s too late and definitely time to move away if you see:

  • Birds taking flight
  • Birds circling above or around you
  • Birds mobbing or dive bombing you

Tips to avoid disturbing birds
Follow the general guidelines  and in particular:

  • Seabirds use steep cliffs and rocky islands as nesting sites. Keep a safe distance away (at least 50m and up to 300m for some sensitive species) and don’t linger at seabird colonies during the breeding season (February to July)
  • Some species are more easily scared than others so be prepared to give them more space
  • Bays, estuaries and marshes are important feeding and roosting sites for birds, especially during autumn and winter (August to April). Avoid getting too close to birds on the shoreline, particularly around high tide and definitely if there are large numbers of birds
  • Keep your dogs under control. Do not allow your dog to run at any birds.


MAIN PHOTO: copyright Natural England/Paul Glendall