Audubon Uses Satellites and Cameras to Unlock the Ecology of Florida Bay’s Spoonbills

Audubon Florida’s Everglades Science Center (ESC) has been studying Roseate Spoonbills since 1939.

Roseate Spoonbills are the “canary in the coal mine” for the Everglades. Because this species has a clear relationship with hydrologic conditions in the River of Grass, the colorful wading birds can tell us if restoration is successful farther upstream. They also provide warning signals for upcoming changes or shifts to an ecosystem, including rising seas. 

ESC has launched a new project to use cellular transmitters and trail cameras to reduce disturbance to the nesting birds while providing new insights into their behaviors in remote Florida Bay.

The Roseate Spoonbill study has three key elements: 

1. Tracking adult birds to learn more about their movements

2. Conducting surveys and monitoring efforts of colonies in Florida Bay during nesting season to capture nesting and general population data

3. Advocating for significant public policy changes

Our data and analyses guide decision-makers in restoration and water management decisions to improve this important habitat for spoonbills and other wildlife. 

Trail Cameras

Trail cameras with motion sensors capture information that complements other sources of collected data while minimizing disturbance to the birds’ habitat and nests by reducing the number of human visits to active colonies from as many as seven per nesting cycle to just two. The use of these cameras will also reduce our carbon footprint, as well as wear and tear on the Center’s boats. In the near future, we aim to set up as many as 40-50 game cameras across Florida Bay. The first set of 10 cameras was set up in January 2021 to test and pilot the efficacy of the data collected. Initial results appear promising for gathering an increased and consistent dataset of nest images for a limited number of nests.

Cellular Tracking

In the remote reaches of Florida Bay, remote tracking technology is unlocking a world of information about the movements, routines, and habitat preferences of Florida’s iconic spoonbills. Staff captured ten adult spoonbills nesting in Florida Bay and attached cellular tracking devices. This technology will enhance ongoing efforts to understand the effects of climate change, sea level rise, and Everglades restoration efforts on these charismatic Florida birds. Through this effort, the birds showed us a new colony that had never been discovered. We are also seeing that, while nesting, they are using different habitats for foraging. For example, they are using more ponds inside bay keys than the mangrove wetlands on the mainland that they historically preferred. Our data also show interesting flight patterns, providing clues to where spoonbills are going when not nesting, and when they are moving. We are now beginning to analyze these observations.

The combination of cameras and satellite tracking not only provides scientists with important clues to their survival, but also offers an opportunity to share our research with a broader audience and connect more people with the work. 


Bob Allen, original director of the Everglades Science Center, had to camp amidst the mosquitoes for months at a time to gather the foundational knowledge of Roseate Spoonbills that we take for granted today. Imagine what he would think of the mysteries we’re able to unlock with the help of this exciting technology!

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