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Posted on Aug 28, 2019 in Audubon Florida , Protecting Nesting Birds , September–October 2019 , Black Skimmer

A black skimmer and her chicks enjoy the coastal dune lake’s vast nutrients. Photo by Jean Hall

Audubon Florida offers tips on protecting nesting birds by Nicole Dattero

Visiting the beach in the summer brings more than tan lines and good times. For coastal birds, this past summer meant nesting and waiting for their chicks to hatch.

Native species, including black skimmers, least terns, Wilson’s plovers, and snowy plovers, lay their eggs in shallow scoop nests right on the sand. While nesting on busy beaches may seem risky, coastal birds choose sites that both allow them to defend their chicks while remaining close to food sources. For us beach-goers, spotting a baby chick inspires giddy excitement (especially once you notice how fuzzy the baby chicks are), but we must remember that the birds need their space.

Get too close, and the parent birds become distressed, fearing their chicks are in harm’s way. Thinking that you are a predator, the birds display aggressive behaviors like dive bombing or appearing as if they have a broken wing to lead you away from their young. Although their antics may appear humorous at first, these actions actually prevent them from protecting their nests. If you see the birds in distress, step away.

Audubon Florida’s top priority is ensuring safety for all birds. In Walton County, state parks act as a primary refuge for the birds and the posted areas surrounding nests or groups of nests serve as their primary protection. The public is welcome to observe these coastal birds from a safe distance by visiting the state parks along the Gulf of Mexico, including Grayton Beach State Park, Deer Lake State Park, and Topsail Hill Preserve State Park. Adult birds and their chicks, particularly the snowy plovers and least terns, congregate around the coastal dune lake outfalls. These unique lake systems are full of nutrients, which allow the birds to easily forage for food for themselves and their chicks.

A least tern protects chicks from predators. How many can you count? Photo by Jean Hall

“Snowy plovers and American oystercatchers hit hard by Hurricane Michael are fledging more chicks than in recent years,” says Audubon Florida’s director of bird conservation Marianne Korosy. “Least terns and black skimmers are having banner years, fledging hundreds of chicks on rooftops and beaches in Northeast Florida and along the Southwest Florida coast from Pinellas to Collier Counties.”

State parks are protecting nesting birds by investing in signs and fencing that identify nesting grounds. However, it is the bird-loving public and volunteers who educate visitors and locals alike on these beautiful and threatened nesting species. Audubon Bird Stewards are responsible for helping to ensure that the public adheres to postage signs and for answering questions, while Audubon’s Coastal Bird Stewardship Program allows volunteers the opportunity to serve as bird advocates and to serve as an example to the public. Would you like to volunteer for next year’s nesting season? Contact Audubon Florida at flconservation@audubon.org.