South Walton is home to three state parks that border the Gulf of Mexico: Deer Lake on the east end of 30A, Grayton in the middle, and Topsail on the far west end.

Up and down the beach, the coast draws unique specimens of birds, and especially to the state park coastal area.

Half of all bird species migrate, which amounts to about 4,000 species, says Caroline Stahala of Audubon Florida.

"Birds have such a range in behavior," she said.

The migrant that travels the longest distance is the Arctic tern, an elegant white sea bird that flies 50,000 miles each year.

An Alaskan bird, a wader called a godwit is documented to having flown 7,000 miles without stopping.

Scientists have found that some shorebirds can sleep and fly at the same time by shutting off part of their brain.

The bar-headed goose can reach heights of 1 mile above sea level, and a vulture in Asia once collided with an airplane at 37,000 feet.

However, what have the birds we see on our shores gone through to show up here?

Birds commonly seen on our shore would include the piping plover, which winters in the Bahamas.

"Our area is a stopover site for a lot of birds as it may be the first land they reach," said Stahala. "It occurs on seasonal cycle back and forth to same area. It's convenient to fly over land. They have wintering and summering sites and stop-over sites."

Stahala said she has been getting calls about dead birds along the shoreline. She said that phenomenon is related to food and survival of the fittest.

"If they don't make it across the water during migration they will wash up, and this is migration season," she said.

During winter, birds stock up on food and stay in larger flocks for protection.

"They don't fight over food in winter," she said.

However, in the summer they aren't in large groups because there is infighting over mating.

During the winter, Audubon Florida stays busy doing surveys, documenting what type of habitat the birds are found on our shores.

"We are currently in breeding season," said Stahala, "and we record everything we see."

Our sea birds tend to stay over water and nest colonially.

Shorebirds have longer legs and forage along the sand. They both nest on the beach. However, shorebirds don't build nests, said Stahala, they build a scrape. A scrape is a little indention where eggs are laid. After laying eggs, some birds leave the nest right away and some stay a few days.

The eggs are catalogued and if a bird dives at you for no apparent reason, you are probably too close to their nest. The biggest danger to birds' eggs on the beach are humans, and Walton County itself is a threat in allowing beach driving, she said.

"We ask people not to walk dogs near breeding sites," said Stahala.

Although eggs are laid on the beach, the birds' main breeding sites are in the parks.

One bird that does not migrate from our area is the snowy plover.

"They are Florida residents, and they are solitary nesters," said Stahala. "They like solitude. She may let the male take care of the nest. We have two snowy plovers on our beach right now and several species of frogs."

These Florida residents are a threatened species.

Black skimmers are protected in Florida due to habitat loss. The Black Skimmers are colonial nesters and a distinctive feature is their bottom beak is longer than their top. They have a 44-inch wing span, which is big, said Stahala.

Least tern also listed as threatened by the state. They are colonial and eat fish.

"They fish like pelicans," said Stahala. "The male takes a fish to a female during breeding season and they're here now."

The winter bird red knot is red in summer and drab in winter and listed on the federally endangered species list.

The piping plover is also federally endangered. However, Wilson's plover, which visits our beaches in the winter and summer, is not a conservation concern.

The unique sanderling goes to the Arctic to breed, and when here, you will notice them running up and down the beach with the waves.

Willets are here most of year and are semi solitary. They are medium waders, brownish, and they feel for food in the sand.

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