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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (June 27, 2017) – After Tropical Storm Cindy had swept through the Florida Panhandle, Audubon researchers discovered several destroyed beach bird nesting sites during post-storm surveys. Many rare and threatened bird species nest right on the sand, and Audubon researchers and volunteers work diligently to protect beach-nesting birds from human disturbance and predation. After initial reports of habitat destruction from Tropical Storm Cindy late last week, Audubon researchers were disappointed to find that the storm’s heavy rain and high waters also washed out many low-lying nesting sites. Despite Audubon’s efforts to defend Florida’s beach-nesting birds, Tropical Storm Cindy overwashed chicks and eggs alike across the Panhandle’s coast.
“It’s disheartening. Many iconic species like Black Skimmers and Least Terns are imperiled and already struggle to raise their young as available habitat becomes harder to find,” said Julie Wraithmell, deputy director, Audubon Florida. “But this mid-season storm in the peak of their nesting season devastated colonies across Florida’s panhandle.”
Initial reports on Friday found many mainland sites along the northern Gulf of Mexico damaged or completely washed over. Audubon researchers worked around-the-clock through the weekend to survey offshore sites, which host the region’s largest nesting colonies. Audubon researchers found even more destroyed nesting sites at offshore locations in the Gulf.
There were a few bright spots. Of the four American Oystercatcher chicks that fledged on an offshore site before Cindy’s passage, two were present after the storm. Audubon biologists believe the older two flew to an adjacent island for shelter. Beach-nesting birds in Southwest Florida and on North Florida’s Atlantic coast were spared the heavy rains and storm tides from Cindy. Nesting in Southwest and Northeast Florida were less impacted by the storm, making them even more important to statewide nesting success this year. Volunteers will be out in force in these areas to help shepherd the nesting through the risky Independence Day holiday weekend.
“Our researchers and volunteers will continue their good work to ensure a successful nesting year for beach bird families,” said Dr. Marianne Korosy, director of bird conservation, Audubon Florida. “It’s not too late for Black Skimmers to re-nest, and Audubon will be right there to do everything we can to protect chicks and eggs from human disturbance and predation. Bird stewards are especially needed at coastal nesting sites over the upcoming holiday weekend to protect nests and chicks.”
Audubon encourages beachgoers and boaters to exercise caution when enjoying Florida’s beaches during the coming weeks and especially through the Independence Day holiday weekend. Many coastal birds will be attempting to renest and will be particularly vulnerable to impacts of human and pet disturbance while trying to rebuild their families. If you’re interested in helping Audubon protect and monitor birds this holiday weekend, email FLConservation@audubon.org.
Audubon's Tips to Share the Shores with Birds:
- Respect posted areas, even if you don't see birds inside them. Birds, eggs, and nests are well-camouflaged, and disturbance by people endangers the entire colony.
- Give colony islands some room. When fishing, be sure not to leave any equipment behind. Always dispose of fishing line and tackle appropriately.
- Avoid disturbing birds. If birds take flight or appear agitated, you are too close.
- Refrain from walking dogs or allowing cats on beaches. Even on a leash, dogs are perceived as predators by birds.
- Don't let pets off boats onto posted islands or beaches.
- If you must walk your dog on beaches, always keep them on a leash and away from birds.
- Please do not feed gulls or herons at the beach. Also, do not bury or leave trash, picnic leftovers, charcoal or fish scraps on the beach. They attract predators of chicks and eggs, such as Fish Crows, raccoons, foxes, coyotes, and Laughing Gulls.
- Leave fireworks at home and attend an official display instead. Impromptu fireworks on Florida's beaches and waterways can have catastrophic effects on vulnerable chicks and eggs.
- Beach-nesting birds sometimes nest outside of posted areas. If you notice birds circling noisily over your head, you may be near a nesting colony. Leave quietly, and enjoy the colony from a distance.