Coastal Conservation

Black Skimmer Chicks Need Our Help On The Beach

Each year from May through August, Black Skimmers return to their breeding grounds in Pinellas County to lay eggs and raise their chicks in large colonies. Similarly, people return to the beaches during these same months to enjoy the warm sun, cool off in the turquoise waters, and spend time with their own families.

This summer, Audubon Florida urges you to let the birds nest in peace by being mindful of skimmer flocks and protected nesting areas. Disturbances, from beach-runners to drones to leashed dogs, can wreak havoc on coastal birds—especially for nesting species. After a disturbance, skimmers’ attention is shifted away from incubating their eggs or protecting their helpless chicks. Skimmers will panic and fly from their nests, exposing chicks to danger until their parents return. For this reason, it is better to give skimmers and their nesting colonies space.

Additionally, refuse left from beachgoers litters our beaches and near-shore waters, which can be easily mistaken for food by sea turtles and other marine animals. Hungry chicks nibble on plastic refuse, ingesting very small pieces.

Audubon Florida works on multiple fronts to protect nesting birds during the summer, and especially during busy holiday weeks.

In 2017, an Audubon Florida trail camera showed parent birds at a Black Skimmer colony in Pinellas County scattering from their nests after fireworks were deployed nearby. While these birds returned, some abandoned the colony completely. Years earlier, skimmers flushed after a fireworks display and never returned to their nests. Last year, an Audubon Florida staff member observed a small, fluffy, leashed dog cause a Black Skimmer colony in Pinellas County to abandon their nesting site just days after laying their eggs.

In May, Black Skimmers will begin pairing up and creating small “scrapes” in the sand. This is a critical time when skimmers need to establish their colony in order to lay their eggs soon after. Each pair of skimmers will lay between 3-5 camouflaged eggs in their scrapes, and they will take turns incubating over the next few weeks until the eggs hatch. In early July, tiny skimmer chicks are adorned in downy feathers, making them particularly vulnerable to predators and the heat of the sun and sand. The chicks are also well-camouflaged, and they can be difficult to see if they wander outside of a posted colony.

You can help Black Skimmers and their nests and chicks by:

·       Paying attention to signs and barriers and walk safely outside the roped off sections of beach.

·       Keeping your dogs on a leash, or taking them to dog-friendly beaches.

·       Notifying Audubon Florida staff if you see eggs or nests outside the roped-off area.

·       Disposing of trash in designated receptacles to keep the beaches clean.

·       Asking questions! We love talking about Florida's native bird species.

We thank you for supporting your local Black Skimmers!

If you see Black Skimmers on your beach and they are nesting or resting, please send an email to Holley Short, Shorebird Project Manager, at

Link to PSA video on protecting beach-nesting birds

How you can help, right now