Audubon in Action: Beach-nesting Birds
Beach-nesting birds, such as terns and plovers, are struggling to survive in Florida, often because of the intense disturbance by recreational beachgoers. Flushed from their camouflaged nests in the sand, adult birds watch helplessly as eggs and chicks are exposed to the hot sun and predators, or are crushed by unwary pedestrians, dogs or drivers.
One Florida beach species, the threatened Least Tern, has found a partial solution: most now choose to nest on gravel rooftops. However, these “beaches in the sky” have their own perils: chicks fall off roofs and perish on the ground, unprotected by their parents. In Northeast and Southwest Florida, Audubon’s chick-checking volunteers return these fallen chicks to their rooftops to rejoin the colony and their parents. Least Terns nesting on rooftops may be less exposed to human disturbance than colonies nesting on beaches, but rooftop colonies are no less exposed to avian predators such as hawks, crows, gulls, and herons. Rooftop nesting is not a good long-term solution because gravel rooftops are being phased-out or replaced over time with newer, lightweight, more reflective roof surfacing materials.
Recognizing that rooftops are no replacement for real beach habitat, Audubon’s stewardship efforts remain directed at making beaches safer places for birds to nest. We help by encouraging public land managers to protect beach nesting areas, and we staff the posted areas on busy weekends with volunteer bird stewards, who act as ambassadors for the birds. A recent study by Dr. Beth Forys, commissioned by Audubon Florida, showed that people are nine times less likely to enter a posted bird protection area when a bird steward is present and thus greatly reducing the risks of disturbance to flightless chicks and eggs.
Here at Audubon, we recruit volunteers to assist with on-the-ground wildlife and habitat management. The benefits to wildlife are immediate and connect people with nature. This connection is a gateway for volunteers to quickly become educated on regional conservation issues, stay engaged for longer tenures, and move from volunteerism to advocacy.