Coastal bird nesting season has arrived

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From Audubon to Florida

Spotted!

Beach-nesting birds and other coastal birds have begun to nest along Florida’s coasts. Spring and summer mark critical times of the year for these vulnerable species, as they must avoid human disturbance, storms and predators to successfully raise their chicks.

While waders nest in coastal trees, seabirds and shorebirds lay their eggs directly on the sand. They perceive all people as a threat and will run away whenever bathers or their dogs get too close. Repeated human disturbance often results in the birds abandoning the colony. If they don’t find a better location, their nesting season is ruined. Audubon has recorded nests in three locations in Florida so far.

In Hillsborough Bay, American oystercatchers have started nesting and some waders have already released their chicks, says Jeff Liechty, coastal biologist at Audubon’s Florida Coastal Islands Sanctuaries. Hillsborough Bay is designated as a globally significant bird area, due to the diversity and abundance of birds that breed on the islands – including the Alafia Bank Bird Sanctuary, which is rented and managed in conjunction with The Mosaic Company and Port Tampa Bay.

“Early season nesting begins in November for great blue herons,” Liechty said. “Other species already nesting on Alafia Bank include double-crested cormorants, brown pelicans and roseate spoonbills. Beach-nesting birds have just started nesting, with an American oystercatcher nest discovered in mid-March on one of the dredged islands,” he added.

These birds nest directly on the shoreline of sand and shells and are extremely vulnerable to human disturbance. It is important that boaters obey signage and avoid areas where entry is prohibited, even if they do not see any birds.

Sites in the Florida Panhandle usually vie for the title of “Florida’s premier nesting site”. Dog Island and TH Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park are tied this year. Staff recorded Snowy Plover eggs laid around March 1 for both sites. As of mid-March, Dog Island had seven active Snowy Plover nests.

“Snowy Plovers nest in open patches of sand or shells, usually in front of the first line of dunes and sometimes on tiny dunes. Later in the season, they tend to choose locations closer to small patches of vegetation or just behind the front line of dunes,” says Audubon Carrabelle shorebird biologist Michael Ferrara.

In the panhandle, snowy plovers dominate the first month to a month and a half of the nesting season until American oystercatchers, Wilson’s plovers and our first seabirds (gulls and brown pelicans) and waders (great egrets and tricolor herons, among others) begin nesting. “A lot of our tern species don’t start nesting until May in the northern part of the state,” Ferrara concludes.

How to help beach-nesting birds raise their next generation of chicks to adulthood:

  • Respect the marked areas, even if you don’t see any birds inside.
  • If birds swoop down on you, carefully move away as there may be a nest nearby.
  • Make sure no trash or leftover food is left behind as this can attract predators.
  • Keep dogs on a leash, on your boat or at home.

Audubon Florida protects the birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow. Audubon works across the Americas using field science, advocacy, education, and conservation. State programs, nature centers, chapters and partners give Audubon an unprecedented scale that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire and unite diverse communities in conservation action. A non-profit conservation organization since 1905, Audubon believes in a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Learn more at Fl.Audubon.org.

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