Soon to be moms are spending their time beachside this Mother’s Day.
Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring marked its first shorebird nest of the season April 26. According to AMITW executive director Suzi Fox, the first nest is a least tern nest.
An area 150 by 400 feet is marked off in the 2500 block of Gulf Drive on the Gulf beach to give the nesting birds some privacy and protection.
Least terns, the smallest tern on the island, are listed as a threatened species and are protected by state law. When a nest is spotted, the AMITW crew heads out to protect it from harm.
Least terns are migratory birds, and arrive on the island in early spring from their winter grounds in South America. The travelers begin to romance fairly quickly after their arrival and typically lay eggs in April and May.
Donning their breeding plumage, a black “cap,” the males will attempt to woo prospective mates by offering them small fish.
The eggs are laid in shallow depressions on the open, broad expanse of bare sand, camouflaging the eggs. They hatch after 21 days.
The young least terns will leave the nest after a few days, but will not fly for three weeks.
Least tern nests are highly susceptible to disturbance, making the protection important to their survival. The terns lay their eggs in small scrapes in the sand on the beach. The high foot-traffic of beachgoers can easily destroy the nests before they are spotted.
The small shorebirds nest in colonies. The disturbance of one nest usually leads to the disturbance of many nests.
The least terns have lost extensive nesting habitat to increased human activity on the beaches and development. Efforts by the AMITW combat some of the obstacles nesting terns face.
According the Florida Fish and Wildlife, least terns have begun nesting in the gravel of flat roofs on homes due to habitat loss in the past couple of decades.
The FWC developed an educational pilot program being implemented in Pinellas County to encourage tolerance of the roof squatters.
Disturbing the nesting birds is illegal. Beachgoers who see the marked nesting grounds should stay behind the marked area so as not to disturb the birds.
Any unmarked nests should be reported to the AMITW by calling Fox at 941-778-5638.