For The Birds

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“The best part of my job is educating the public about wildlife,” smiles Rae Blake, the environmental & stormwater technician for the Town of Fort Myers Beach. “This is rarely as important as now, during shorebird beach-nesting season.”

This began in February with the Snowy plovers and continues into September, though the vast majority of the nesting will occur over the next several months. In addition to the Snowy plovers, other threatened shoreline birds include Black Skimmers, Least Terns, American Oystercatchers and Wilson’s Plovers. “These birds like a habitat with a lot of sand and little vegetation, making our beaches perfect,” Rae explains. “This is outstanding camouflage for them, their eggs and eventually, chicks. The primary reason they are on the threatened list is from increasing human contact and encroachment.”

shorebird nesting season, for the birds
Least Tern chicks and eggs are camouflaged by their color and spots to protect them from predators. Photo by Keith Laakkonen.

Since they have the threatened designation, each nest is crucial to the survival of the species. It is essential that every newborn receives the best opportunity to grow and thrive. When the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) finds nests, they post these zones to separate these stretches of beach with string, wooden stakes, and warning signs, giving birds space from human disturbance. “It’s a tricky balance,” cautions Rae. ”You want to wall it off to protect the birds but not too obviously or you risk drawing other forms of unwanted attention.” If you discover nesting activity that requires posting, please immediately notify the land manager or FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922.

Give nesting birds room. “We rope off these spots for a reason,” Rae emphasizes. “Not only do they need space but employ common sense – if a bird seems flighty, nervous, or agitated, you are too close. Slowly back off while keeping an eye out around your feet for unseen eggs or chicks.” Different species employ their own unique tricks to move you from their nests. “Least terns do everything in their power to keep you from their young,” she says. “They squawk and carry on, and even dive bomb you. Plovers are more clever, often faking an injured wing and wobbling off to lure you to a safe distance, then miraculously heal and fly back!”

shoreline nesting season, for the birds
Posted nesting area in the foreground, has to coexist with adjacent human development. Photo by Gary Mooney.

Rae offers additional advice: “Don’t flush the birds – causing them to fly from their nests is a waste of their badly-needed energy. Nesting season occurs in hot weather, so the sun can quickly overheat the eggs or chicks, making it is essential for parents to remain with the babies as much as possible. If you want to take photographs, do it from a safe distance of at least 300 feet. Please don’t feed shoreline birds; they have done fine for centuries without our help! Keep your dog far from their nests. You may have the world’s greatest pet but just its mere presence can frighten and stress adults and chicks.”

Most important, watch for wandering wildlife! “You see the ropes and know to keep away; a new-borne chick has no clue they are to stay behind the strings and signs,” reasons Rae. “Be vigilant, for their sake, like you would around any other baby.”

Should you witness people violating a nesting area, agitating the birds, or hampering eggs or chicks, politely ask them to refrain and explain why; if they continue, report violators immediately to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922). For more information visit MyFWC.com or see The Florida Shorebird Alliance at FLShorebirdAlliance.org.

“The best sense is common sense,” Rae concludes. “If a nesting bird is squawking and visibly angry, don’t go near it or you are asking for trouble – they may even fly over and poop on you, and nobody likes that!”

 

Gary Mooney