Help endangered shorebirds get a shot at survival

Published: Thursday, June 27, 2013 at 04:23 PM.

Each year on our beaches, imperiled animals come to nest. Many visitors and residents are aware of our nesting sea turtles and even our endangered beach mice. However, most aren’t aware of our nesting shorebirds.

Each year Okaloosa, Walton, and Bay county beaches play host to a variety of nesting shorebirds including snowy plovers and least terns. These two bird species are listed as threatened in the state of Florida, which means their numbers are dwindling.

They have been forced into smaller and smaller areas as their habitat has been transformed into housing and recreation areas. The fate of each nest is critical to the survival of these birds in Florida. Fortunately preserved areas serve as nesting grounds and affords these birds a chance at successful nesting, which will ultimately help their populations to rebound.

Topsail Hill Preserve, Grayton Beach, Deer Lake, Camp Helen, and St. Andrews State Park (mainland and Shell Island) all serve as important nesting sites and all have had record nesting levels this year.

Yet it is important to make others aware that these species are nesting on our local beaches so that disturbances can be minimized in the protected areas —especially since the largest nesting colony at Grayton Beach is immediately adjacent to a heavily used public driving area.

Least terns are colony nesters, which means they find protection in large numbers. It is easier for them to fend off potential predators when there are a large amount of birds. Nesting on the beach can be a daunting task and the predators have the advantage. Coyotes, foxes, raccoons, laughing gulls, gull billed terns, humans, and even domesticated dogs all can cause colony collapse.

The snowy plovers, on the other hand, are solitary nesters and rely on camouflage and theatrics to protect their nests. Currently this year at Grayton Beach, there are nearly 200 nests, more than 50 chicks, all from approximately 300 birds — and that is just the least terns.

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