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Date of Issue: April 02, 2008

Bird nesting season arrives

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A black skimmer. Islander Photo: Courtesy Lois Copperman

Sunscreen, towel, sunglasses. Now you are ready to head out to the beach.

But, remember, you will be sharing the beach with nesting birds.

Each year, starting in late March, beach nesting birds migrate from all over to local beaches to nest and raise their families.

Due to increasing development and disturbance of nesting activities, the numbers of many of these beach-nesting birds are declining.

“Most people aren’t even aware that they are threatening the survival of birds that nest on the beach when they let their kids or dogs run through or close to colonies. Unfortunately, if the adult [birds] are repeatedly frightened up into the air, they may even abandon their young,” said Monique Boroen-Abrams of St Petersburg Audubon.

Least terns, starting this month, will lay their eggs directly on the sand, in shallow depressions. These depressions are easily overlooked, so step lightly and make sure that a volleyball game does not include these birds as an immediate audience. Least terns have been declared as a threatened species in Florida. 

It’s easy to witness the least tern’s mating ritual. The male terns offer small fish to their selected females. The female that accepts will be his mate, and the pair will look for a suitable nesting site - if only it were that easy for humans. Least terns often return to the same nesting site each year, unless the site has consistently been unsuccessful.

The black skimmer is a bird seen nesting in colonies on local beaches, often with least terns between May and August. This is a species of special concern in the state of Florida.

The plover is a small, light-colored bird that can be seen dancing in and out of waves breaking on the beach, and they never get caught by a single wave. The plover nests in a more solitary fashion. Snowy plovers breed in open areas of dry sand between the months of February and September. These birds have an active lifestyle and may nest multiple times, having several clutches of young during one season. There are only about 200 nesting pairs of snowy plovers in Florida.

The Wilson’s plover, also known as the thick-billed plover, can be seen nesting from early spring to late summer in a shallow scrape in the sand, usually in the sparsely vegetated upper part of the beach and the dunes.

Richard Meyers, assistant refuge manager of Tampa Bay Refuge, said, “The birds are already starting to nest on Egmont Key. By mid-May we usually have thousands of laughing gulls, black skimmers, terns, pelicans and other birds raising their young in protected bird areas.”

Beachgoers can help protect nesting sites by following these guidelines:

  • Keep a distance - if birds are agitated, you are too close.
  • Keep out of posted areas and encourage others to stay out.
  • Don’t force the birds to fly.
  • Avoid running watercraft near the shore.
  • Keep dogs off the beaches.

For more information about nesting birds on Anna Maria Island, call the state at 888-404-3922 or visit www.stpeteaudubon.org.